From Communicable Matter to Incommunicable “Stuff”: Extreme Combinatorics and the Return of Ineffability

Part of the Comparative Philosophy of Religion book series (COPR, volume 1)


Since Kant, there has been an intense debate around the question of the location of the sublime: Is it in the object or in the subject? In this essay, I tackle what I see as a fast-growing, indeed ubiquitous, socio-cultural phenomenon, namely, the imagistic, linguistic, and ontological inability to configure the rising tide of confounding “objects,” leading to the vacuous usage of the non-descriptor “stuff.” Today, I argue, the viewer is deliberately presented with experiences, “entities,” that are not only without a concept but without the possibility of a concept, thus producing a failure of intuition—that is, not a soaring ascent into comprehension, but a bewildering descent, into ineffability. I will examine this cognitive and emotional impasse from the perspective of ineffability’s dark side. By this I mean its fall from Neoplatonic awe at radiant unity into the current shambling inexpressibility. Focusing on a handful of telling cases—both particular and exemplary—ranging from the invasion of the unexamined digital absolute, to terrifying transplant surgeries, to extreme scientific experimentation and its uptake by BioArt, I ask, What does it mean when we completely sever action from reflection and judgment? If the object world is now permeated by the IT and media world, does the “scientization of art” inherit not only science’s undoubted wonders but also its ethical ambiguities, the violence of its experimentation, the opacity of its aims, its indifference to social or cultural impact when personal promotionalism is at stake, and its inscrutable darkness or incommunicability?



I want to thank the wonderful librarians at the Aram Public Library, Delavan, Wisconsin for the help they extended to me while a hermit in a summer cabin in the woods.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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