Provisional Theses for a Fondanian Existential Philosophy
An Interpretation of Fondane's "Existential Monday and the Sunday of History"
Existential philosophies demand metaphysical porosity. They eschew the conceptual insularity which shudders off existents from Existence.
If the metaphysical commitments of the philosopher involve ensuring the production of a system’s self-satisfaction, or if a metaphysics intends to precipitate a kind of ‘moral calm’ as its primary ethical effect, the philosophy likely involves a destitution of passions. These philosophies abandon the existent to suffer within thought as a kind of terminal enclosure.
Fondane uses the example of Leibniz’s monad as a concept which induces philosophical satisfaction and quells existential anxieties. Leibniz’s concept, like Platonic heaven and others, is hermetically sealed, impervious to penetration by the ‘spur’ of existence. There is an experience of agony or torture of all lively existence which intimates the edge between thought and its counterpart, non-thought. It is non-thought which makes all thought possible. Existentialist philosophies valorize the spur.
The composition of the concept contains as one of its components the will which creates the composition. Concepts, however, can repress existents and subordinate the eventfulness of existence to finality. Deathly transcendence is the enemy of the existent.
The repression of the existent and its creative force may cause it to burrow out of the concept; concepts thus always exhibit tremors. They tremble as enclosures. In the deathly concept, existents subsist as tensors which throb in disquiet.
Fondane forces us to reconsider the ontological status of anxiety for philosophy. Anxiety, or ‘holy hypochondria’ as he puts it, should not be seen merely as a ‘state of mind’. Anxiety has its place as an ‘instrument of research’. For Fondane, anxiety becomes a component in the methodology of the existential philosopher.
The existential philosopher is thus one who understands the thought-as-enclosure to be derivative of fear and impotence. The failure to venture the tortures of existence forces thought to condense as reason. Nietzsche’s view of Socrates comes to mind. Socrates inoculates himself from the passions by valorizing a notion of reason. To do so, he affixes a ligature onto different enlivening tendencies of thought, particularly those excluded from singularly ‘philosophical’ thinking.
Nietzsche maintains a looming worry that all philosophical thought may contain as its kernel the impotence derived from reactivity. This may pose a challenge to Fondane’s project; however, he expresses confidence in the possibility of enlivenment beyond the limits of prescribed reason.
It is by edging over the border between knowledge and non-knowledge that the possibility of a full critique of any theory of knowledge begins.
To summarize the task of the existential philosopher: she dwells at the border between the intelligible and unintelligible. The force of the unintelligible upon intelligibility necessarily unsettles all ‘moral calm’, as Fondane suggests. If we are to save the concept of ataraxia, we must do so forgoing metaphysical notions of finality.
Existential philosophers embrace thought’s limit as the enlivening possibility of thought. However, the unintelligible can never be subordinated to the task of thinking.
Lastly, there is no experience of the unintelligible as such. Encounters (a term which functions only metaphorically in this case—lest the notion of encounter force us to presuppose some certainties regarding the unintelligible) are irreducible to experience. Encounters with the unintelligible are instigated through manifold ruptures of the known: surprises, shocks, dismemberments, silences, vacuities, etc., to name a few.