Altar-ations: A Brief Story in the Salt Mine (Part I)

“…[D]ream should be turned out [entäussert] through dialectical interpretation, and immanent consciousness itself understood as a constellation of the real. Just as if it were the astronomical phase in which hell moves among mankind. Only the star-chart of such wanderings, could, it seems to me, open a perspective on history as primal history.”  – Adorno

Preface to a Brief Story in the Salt Mine:

All that I have posted so far, this 9-link chain each consisting of parts I-II-III (see here), can be read altogether as a brief story from inthesaltmine.

I should like to tell that narrative of my experience as I experienced it first-hand.

Though I had neither image in mind at the time I began, two distinct pictures have now crystallized or fossilized before my mind: One may liken these 9 chains to Dante’s 9 circles of the Inferno; or, if you would prefer, one may liken them to the first 9 steps of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. I have labeled them accordingly in the table of contents.











This journey (my journey) which continues today, after three or four years of relatively intense individuation and inner crisis of faith, has provided me with a compelling myth I can speak to others.

I can tell them the myth of my own Wandering that I have claimed as my own. There is no more truth to blaze or to otherwise set on fire, for all is already emanating here. This is my story, this is my Body broken, broken for you my readers. Do this in remembrance of “me”.

Whether you are prone to see my fragmentary work as being fundamentally of “life” or of “death” (…and how frequently they do collide!) it has in any case been the somewhat documented and de-organized course of my own unconscious Life as I have experienced it. Life as we know it is here doubled, containing elements we call life and those we call death. Each link in the sequence can now be recognized by and for a certain underlying “sin” or “self-discovery” which accompanies it. Again, however you choose to see it, we nonetheless have recognized it by the name Tree of Life.

It therefore comes after the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, it is therefore the Tree of a Knowledge beyond “Good” and “Evil”. I file my experiences in these spheres.

Consequently, with our latest installments of Wisdom we have freed ourselves from the “conscience of sin” through recognition and rejection. As such, we have reached the zero-level of Dante’s journey. From the cutting-edge of Wisdom, we  move down into the center, into the ice-cold center of the salt mine. Appropriately, then, it is here where we are to encounter Satan himself, the Highest Crown itself. All is suspended — nay, all is frozen at this level of Hell. But still there is Life.

Dante writes upon seeing the fallen Angel:

…he had three faces: one in front bloodred; and then another two that, just above the midpoint of each shoulder, joined the first; and at the crown, all three were reattached; the right looked somewhat yellow, somewhat white; the left in its appearance was like those who come from where the Nile, descending, flows…

At this point, I have never in my Life been further away from the flows of the Divine, and therefore never have I been closer to it. My own traces may now testify to this fact.

It is as though we proceeded carefully with at least some degree of  ”self-actualization” already in place, with some “foundation” (Iesod) in the tradition of Abraham as it were. We were given as it were this sense of abundance which, mythically speaking, came “from the Kingdom” of God, from the illuminating excess of the Hegelian Absolute Idea — falling upon us like the Covenant.

A Brief Story in the Salt Mine:

The story of the salt mine can of course be conveyed as a highly archetypal tale which goes roughly as follows:

Before me there lies the entrance to the salt mine, shall I enter it or not? Dim lanterns line the walls like fragile ornaments, and mine cart-tracks carpet the dusty floors (see here). I am driven inside by a stirring without, by a Crisis within which tells me to go. I carried the living ghost of Novalis in me like Dante’s Virgil, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, like Jung’s Philemon (see here). I wore the shield of the blue flower like a coat of arms as I proceeded into my personal unconscious, encountering first the Aufhebung, the upheaval (see here) of all I had once held dear.

The “I”, which is to say my “I”, truly began with its foundation in Fichte’s “transcendental ego” (see here) weak like a promise, it began with the completion of Kantian thought, and I have Wandered very long and far since that time. The nets of our conversations together have not been cast out so straight-forwardly, but were instead entangled in ways which at first could not so easily seen so visually in Nature (see here). Every so often, the cavern would shake us with a great force, and as the ground beneath our feet began its quake and the Absolute fell below us (see here). But still I moved forward, for it was too late to leave the way I had entered.

I had to adapt to the environment of the mine shaft, adopting a learned logic of its uncanny twists and turns (see here), gaining a new, silently operative value system to ensure my survival in the mountain-side (see here), living minimally and ascetically in thought and in motion (see here). For a while, all here seemed hopeless, all here appeared lost.

I learned from this entire process of becoming and entering inthesaltmine to see not through my eyes, but through those perhaps of the Sphinx (see here). Put otherwise, at first we were like Schopenhauer terrified by our own “will”, with a fear of God. We first entered the darkness and though we were afraid, but we soon learned to adjust our eyes to that dreaded “night in which all cows were black”. An anchor of Hope was placed, as slowly our vision recovered (see here). When it returned, however, it was much different than before. In this newly-found Wilderness (see here), we began to Wander.

Along the way, we saw fragments, we experienced fragmentation (see here) and brokenness, we began to see the fragmented bodies (see here) and skeletons of those who came before us. We gathered loose pieces and resources from around us, mined a bit for some ore, and as we integrated these parts into as close to a Whole as possible (see here). The salt mine slowly became for me a new home, a new sanctuary for those who were weary like me. It was time again to Wander, just as the Crisis had commanded.

We pushed forward deeper into the caverns, getting lost many times along the way. The multiplicity of tunnels opened wide, fanning out in many directions, and did not know which one to take (see here) for our safety, let alone for escape. Time and time again, we hit a dead end (see here). That is, until at one corner we decided to … look up. With this new awareness of the mine’s very design, we began to climb up to another, higher plateau in the mine-shaft leaving the ground floor behind us (see here). One hand above the other, we moved up on the rocks ever so technically. We ascended for the moment to an entirely new plane.

Here, we encountered others who had perhaps entered just as we had, who had found the same route but who spoke another language (see here). We learned to communicate with each other, and shared our stories together. We even laughed with each other, extending also mercy and hospitality in the salt mine. We shared also our food and sustenance, we gathered resources again and continued forward (see here). We acquired a surplus through our mutual and communal efforts, and began to plan for the future accordingly (see here).

An echo could be heard faintly coming from the distance, and sometimes a shadow would be cast on the wall and quickly disappear (see here). Perhaps it was a hallucination from being in this labyrinth for so long, but we followed the clues nonetheless. We encountered a great cliff, with another standing across it many feet away. A large gap stood in-between the two. Instead of taking the tight-rope across, we cast our rope down into the abyss itself , descending back again to the ground floor (see here). Luckily, it was smart move, and nobody was hurt in the act (see here). The ground was firm beneath the Crisis.

We were lead through one last tunnel, one last channel, one last line of flight, to a gilded door which might as well have read:

Whither Wisdom? 

Altar-ations, the canary of silence:

If you hear a caged canary in a mine shaft begin to sing, it is understood by the miners as an early indicator of danger, specifically poisonous gas (methane, carbon monoxide, etc.). In this particular mine, however, it ha been a canary of a different feather sort which sings — a canary of silence. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Unto Him) reportedly heard this mystic sound first in the cave of Ghar-e-Hira. The Arabic term is sawt-e-sarmad, and Sufi mystics suggest that “all space is filled with it”. It is a sound which pervades all and stands before all.

Hearing the latest rhythms of Wisdom in my stillness and meditations, I must make clear at this point that I’m didn’t simply pull out an old-copy of Abraham Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs, as if asserting a priori that one must be in the business of “enfolding, misreading, and securing” Wisdom (see here, here, and here respectively), as many pacifists may. The journey began upward, upward from the peak.

This “epic adventure” or “invisible adventure” (Cahun) has furthermore been an exposition in which questions of violence and trauma have been in view at all times during my exploration. This focus came due in part to the vulnerability of my peculiar Crisis situation of Wandering inthesaltmine, like the danger that Novalis himself would have seen while working there. I am still, as we have seen, wrestling with a certain Abraham.

Final round, winner takes the Crown.

Where ever there is actually existing violence or even the mere possibility of such violence, there non-violence can be unfolded. In the story Abraham there is the immediate possibility of killing Isaac as a sacrifice, and thus there is to be found in this example a prime notice of how to unfold non-violence. For a while, yes, we have been sensu stricto ”non-Abrahamic”, or with-and-beyond Abraham, or in any case under-standing of Abraham’s Decision — however one wishes to put it.

But it was only with our meditation of entensionality which moves beyond the intentionality to kill and sacrifice that articulates this Beyond… of a “religious” orientation. Walter Benjamin’s conception of divine violence has everything to do not merely with questions of “sovereignty”, but by extension with the phenomena we call “religion”.

Slavoj Zizek writes:

And what if divine violence is the wild intervention of this angel? Seeing the pile of debris which grows skyward, this wreckage of injustices, from time to time he strikes back to restore the balance, to enact a revenge for the destructive impact of ‘progress’. Couldn’t the entire history of humanity be seen as a growing normalisation of injustice, entailing the nameless and faceless suffering of millions? Somewhere, in the sphere of the ‘divine’, perhaps these injustices are not forgotten. They are accumulated, the wrongs are registered, the tension grows more and more unbearable, till divine violence explodes in a retaliatory destructive rage” (p. 152).

With the critique of “religion” and its “retributive” character, even the seemingly inescapable divine and categorical violences may be resisted. There is then a possible opening of non-violence, if only we learn to unfold it appropriately. While Zizek rightly outlines invisible violences, can he ever move beyond any scheme of “divine categorization”?

Of course there are violences we see, we don’t see, we see that we don’t see, we don’t see that we don’t see — Is this not obvious to so many of us by now? I do not wish anymore to say so typically that “…it is not that these thinkers go wrong, it is that they don’t go far enough” because what if non-violence was about something simple? If it is “a truth as old as the hills” as Gandhi says, then the problem and thus the solution come even before this post-modern realization, in the very given state of equity in the phrase “there is/there are…” [Es gibt] which we often fail to analyze due to our “religious” orientation.

We need to turn around, we’ve gone too far. Too much cutting.

It is therefore not wholly a matter of identifying and dia-gnosing (“passing through” gnosis) the problem. More importantly, it is about the possibility and actuality of healing and amelioration in the midst of it, and intervening in the Crisis after it. Through the careful enfolding of Wisdom, I have found that one must get your hands dirty, and offer a pro-gnostic outlook. That is, time and time again, the soul-force simply subsists as one might say in an emergency situation: Keep going, do not quit here, do not die on us, keep breathing, hold on, you can do it, live!

It compels us to go down to the frozen heart of Truth, to the “facts” of Life itself. At this level, non-violence as such may emerge.

Zizek and thinkers like him are capable, in one fell swoop, of disrespecting entire traditions at whim — dismissing the Gnostics, misrepresenting the Buddhists, marginalizing the Muslims, ignoring the Hindus, etc. These thinkers are generally bulldozing the vast terrain of history due to a kind of misdiagnosis (a Type I false negative/ity) that the Christian tradition provides via the pervasive concepts of “sin” and “Evil”.

Moreover, it is precisely those most concerned with healing efforts that are cast aside. The result is much “collateral damage” in his wake, itself yet another problematic concept. Because he keeps in tact and indeed re-enforces this deeply problematic retributive trait, Zizek simply cannot break the cycle because he cannot see it as such.

One must listen to it instead. Let it enfold you.

Following the gnostic awakening of the feminine Sophia, the dignity of the feminine (see here) points to a Real exit to the death drive.

Do these predominately white, male, and Christological thinkers (…my god, myself included!) have difficulty with questions of Islam and women because it resists in so many ways European philosophy at large? Is it because a humble, traditionally Islamic approach to psychoanalysis — one which doesn’t focus-in on “veiling” but sees within it a certain self-purification of desire —  is so difficult to conceive as a Westerner (see here)? Is it because we have been privileging the visible and what is seen, and not hearing the invisible mystic song?

Dance! Twirl about your axis with me!

As a proponent of restorative justice, it appears that a certain purification of desire and re-direction of Will is in order. The result of such mindful labor may be called satya-agraha.

It is here where Islam presents a significant challenge and an invitation to us Western, European, and otherwise Christological philosophers. When the familiar faces of Freud, Hegel (“religion of sublimity/fanaticism”), Schopenhauer, Jung, Zizek, Lacan, Sloterdijk, Baudrillard, etc. meet Islam, they misstep and retreat into Islamophobia knowingly or otherwise due to their still-too-”Christian” sensibilities. I believe a particular strength of non-religious gnosis contra Laruelle’s Future Christ is found precisely in this generative encounter with Islam.

Consider the link  through Christian Jambet‘s influence on the oscillatory Spirit in Grelet’s text (see here):

“Truth is thus not the adequate of the representation to the thing but the inadequation of man as prophet to the language of the divine speaker, the absolute subject supposed to speak – an inadequation experienced in anguish (Muhammad seized with terror after the visitation of the angel), an inadequation struggled against but never vanquished, in the infinite exegesis of the letter” (21).

“The site of the beautiful, the good, and the true is not the abstract knowledge of innocuous transcendentals but the immediate grasp of the beauty, truth, and goodness of being in the eternal center of every concrete existent, at the point where its victorious reality shines forth in its proper light” (84).

Sloterdijk in an especially revealing quote writes “The tables at which we eat are called dining tables; those at which we are eaten are called altars.” But inside Wisdom, if the chamber room behind the door is so empty, why then do we desperately search for an altar nonetheless? Speaking loosely, is that not such a “Christian” thing to do?


I came across a beautiful interview with Sheikh Nur (see here), an Islamic meditation leader, on the question of Islam and altars:

The preliminary for meditation is this: to establish a beautiful atmosphere. In Islam, there is no altar. We are the altar. There are no images of Divinity. We are the divine image. Human beings were created in the divine image. So now we are offering tea to this perfect image. We are seeing each other in a perfect light.

It is in this chamber, at the heart of inthesaltmine, that we encounter a beautiful atmosphere without a “religious” altar.  The challenge of Islam points us to be conscious of “religion” as such, ever-aware as it were of our use of “religious” language in connection with our desire.

The altar-ations of sound fill the room, if we are still enough so as to hear them booming from in the salt mine…!

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One thought on “Altar-ations: A Brief Story in the Salt Mine (Part I)”

  1. You are very well read indeed! If I had remembered all the ideas an tenants from all the authors and reading I have done, all the significance that each bestowed upon me- perhaps if I had been able to be faithful to my Idea I could have built a meaning of purpose. Or, maybe that build is what brought me to let another build it for me. Who knows? I feel as if what you have written covers the gamut of my experience. As if, in a way, just reading this post, I was lead along the story of my life. Thank you. I will read more! Perhaps another rendering of my life will emerge!

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