Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Matter of Sorrow

by Nicola Masciandaro (Brooklyn College, CUNY) 
[at] Tranzit, Str. Gazelei nr. 44
Wednesday 23rd of April, 19:00
Thursday 24th of April, 19:00  
All men have grounds for sorrow [mater of sorow], but most specially he feels grounds for sorrow who knows and feels that he is. In comparison to this sorrow, all other sorrows are but a game.
Cloud of Unknowing

Two lectures concerning a universal theory of sorrow. Radicalizing Heidegger’s insight that “the being of Da-sein is care [Sorge, sorrow],” I will affirm that sorrow belongs to the simple fact of being. Far from being limited to the evolutionary environment of our terrestrial sphere or the humoral confines of the human, sorrow is more properly a weird kind of cosmic substance composed of all being’s refusal of itself, the intrinsic negation of its own event. Grasping sorrow in these terms does not render actual, particular sorrow irrelevant or merely ontologically atmospheric, but rather redeems sorrow’s palpable darkness from both the hallucinogenic obscurity of affordable, instrumentalized problematicity (sorrow as something to be fixed or solved in the putative self-interest of making everything OK) and base ‘Manichean’ materiality (sorrow as merely an evil psychical ingredient in things). In this theory, sorrow is projectively restored to reality as not only a reflective index, but a perfectible operation of the universal, a way forward into new reality. Everyone knows that “he who increases knowledge, increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Now is time to see the necessity of the obverse: he who does not increase sorrow, does not increase knowledge.

I: The Trouble with Not Being Born  

A body came into the world, but it wasn't you. – VH

The overwhelming and inescapable aporia of individuation – why am I me? – is an inevitable actual impossibility whose only ‘answer’ is that you are not. The fact that you are yourself is direct and irreparable proof that ‘you’ do not really exist, never have, and never will. Following E. M. Cioran’s instructions to rid ourselves “of the traces of this scandal [of birth], the most serious and intolerable of all,” this lecture will explicate the falsity of being born in relation to medieval concepts of mystical sorrow and patristic commentary on the crucifixion darkness, when “all creation mourned.” If all goes well, the conclusion of the lecture will coincide with finding yourself on the cross, surrounded by a voidal cosmos whose blackness is at once lamenting your birth and sucking you into the unending paradise of never having been.

II: Following the Sigh

Becoming is nothing more than a cosmic sigh. – E. M. Cioran

Pessimism’s fidelity to the sigh—“In pessimism, the first axiom is a long, low, funereal sigh” (ET, “Cosmic Pessimism”)—is tied to its secret cosmicity, as if in silent inverse repetition of certain late medieval precedents: “Oltre la spera che piú larga gira / passa ’l sospiro ch’esce del mio core” [Beyond the sphere that widest turns / passes the sigh that exits my heart] (Dante); “Beyond the sphere passeth the arrow of our sigh. Hafiz! Silence” (Hafiz). What is the relation of sigh and cosmos? Where does one touch the other? On the one hand, the sigh, like a live pneumatic form of the soul’s impending exit from a corpse’s mouth, restores consciousness to the general funeral of being, to the passing away that is all existence. On the other hand, the sigh is not deathly exhalation at all, but a stranger kind of being-breathed-in by the cosmos, as if within spirit there were another breath still, inhaled by some larger superessential body that has nothing and/or everything to do with the life of the breather. This lecture takes pessimism as a starting point for following the cosmic sigh via commentary on select verses from Dante’s Vita Nuova, Leopardi’s Canti, and Rasu-Yong Tugen’s Songs from the Black Moon.


Nicola Masciandaro is Professor of English at Brooklyn College (CUNY) and a specialist in medieval literature. Some principal themes of his work are: mysticism, commentary, and decapitation. Recent publications include: Dark Nights of the Universe, co-authored with Daniel Colucciello Barber, Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker (NAME, 2013) and And They Were Two In One And One In Two, co-edited with Eugene Thacker (SCHISM, 2014). Current/forthcoming projects include Sorrow of Being, a book on mystical sorrow, and Sufficient Unto the Day, a collection of essays against worry. He is the founding editor of the journal Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary. He blogs at The Whim.


The lecture is part of The Congress of Pessimism, a series of events organized in connection to BMR's Mediatic Affects course in the Art University of Bucharest. Events in the congress include:

22-23rd of March Dylan Trigg (UCD, School of Philosophy) [at] Salonul de Proiecte
12th of April Unsorcery meeting [at] Salonul de Proiecte
23-24th of April Nicola Masciandaro (Brooklyn College of CUNY) [at] Tranzit Bucuresti
26-27th of April Ben Woodard (Western University Canada) [at] Tranzit Bucuresti
30th of April Horror of Amphitheatre: Launch of Bezna#5: Darkness, Fear, Unknown and Bezna Dissections [at] University of Medicine

The series of lectures was possible with the support of Erste Foundation / Patterns Lectures Program, WUS Austria, Salonul de Proiecte and Tranzit Romania.