continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 1.3 / 2011: 195-200

[ ] Toward an Ontology of Finitude

continent. 1.3 (2011): 195-200.

To begin with, let us open a distance: allow me, here, in this beginning, as if there could be a beginning, to distance my self from you. For, and to re-call Nancy, “[t]here can only be relation […] if we start with an absolute distancing, without which there would be no possibility of proximity, of identity or strangeness, of subjectivity or thinghood.”1

The origin, we might deduce with Nancy, is a distancing;2 the origin is as distancing; original distance is all there is, always.

Becoming, if we give credence to Deleuze and Guattari, “constitutes a zone of proximity and indiscernibility, a no-man´s-land, a non-localizable relation sweeping up the two distant or contiguous points, carrying one into the proximity of the other– and the border-proximity is indifferent to both contiguity and to distance.”3 Yet it is precisely through distance (which is nothing but a becoming in-difference, a becoming-in-different) that such contiguity originates; and vice versa. We reiterate the Deleuzian mantra of becoming without being, with this becoming be(com)ing nothing but a becoming at distance, becoming as distance, becoming [is] as becoming a distance.

This address (and I am indeed addressing the very possibility of addressing you) will be about an estrangement of the I, “[f]or it is not the other which is another I, but the I which is an other, a fractured I.”4 Evidently, all too evidently perhaps, the point here is thus not to reach “the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I.”5

We are in-different to this I, we are always already at distance to this our I: the I does not become present; rather, the I does not stop coming.6 Becoming, then, is always already a beginning, the beginning of the be-coming of another coming. The becoming: always a yet, yet to be-come.

And this be-coming must never be actualized; becoming must remain an accident.

Being, if you allow this metaphysical faux pas, being is based upon its rupture; following Nancy, the essence of being “is the shock of the instant [le coup]. Each time, ‘Being’ is always an instance [un coup] of Being.”7 Becoming, always becoming its own instance, [is] only as an instantaneous withdrawal of (its) presence; the essence of its essence “consists in the withdrawal of its own existence.”8

What shall be unfolded here, therefore, is an ontology of such fracture. Unlike origin-al ontologies9 that are concerned with essence rather than being, the ontology proposed here does not believe in (its) originality. This ontology, if you allow me yet another inappropriate de-nomination, is concerned with becoming as such rather than with (its) Wesen, or, to stress Spinoza, with the (indefinite) striving for abidance, for remaining (in) itself.10 This ontology, questioning its raison” d'être, namely de-fining what “there is”, is hence itself a fissure, fissuring itself.

Becoming, however, becoming has become a platitude. Eluding its re-presentationability, becoming has become univocal itself, self-fulfills Deleuze´s prophecy: “There has only ever been one ontological proposition: Being is univocal. ”11

Univocity: to speak with one voice. One for all, all for one, and God. Claiming that being is one difference (i.e. a one made out of differences), Deleuze does not add a different voice, but continues this tradition. For him, “the essential in univocity is not that Being is said in a single and same sense, but that it is said, in a single and same sense, of all its individuating differences [….] Being is the same for all these modalities, but these modalities are not the same. It is ‘equal’ for all, but they themselves are not equal.”12 Thus, with univocity, “it is not the differences which are and must be: it is being which is Difference, in the sense that it is said of difference.&rdquo13 This, certainly, negates difference as such; difference as such cannot be mediated. The chicken is the egg, and vice versa.

Here, we shall proceed differently; here difference shall be inscribed into difference itself. We remember, becoming is in-difference, becoming is a(s) distancing. What comes out here, in, to, this distance, is an immediate and, at the same time, doomed attempt to name this distance: to name this a distance, to name this distance as distance. Thus what comes up here is the name of the be tween, a name that bears this name through naming: that bears this distance in its very name. This distance, this gap within the name marks, then, a difference, not an opposition.

To inscribe such a presence of in-difference, to name this distance qua naming is, however, “not to (re)present it or to signify it, but to let come to one and over one what merely presents itself at the limit where inscription itself withdraws (or ex-scribes itself, writes itself outside itself).”14

To let come to one what comes, always comes; to let come over one the impossibility of such ex-scription. For every ex-scription bears the inscription of its abandonment.

How, one must ask, how to ex-scribe the coming without coming out of this coming?

After all, the aim here is to conceive becoming as becoming: as such, becoming is becoming in becoming. This coming of the becoming is, as insinuated before, a(s a) be tween. It is through the be tween, with the be tween being its fissure, that be-coming is.

Becoming, conceived as such, [is] as Heideggerian Entwurf.15 Generally translated as projection and/or plan, the Entwurf is above all to be seen as a “throwing-free,” as an opening towards the leap, as (a) leaping towards (its) becoming, a becoming that cannot be fore-seen. For it is InZwischen [in the in-between, but also meantime] that we are: We are always someone-, somewhere else. And it is precisely this Zwischen that sur-mounts the Heideggerian χωρισμ?ς (Kluft), the divide, the either:or;16 an incursion of the be tween, wherein we [are], whereto we are to be dis-placed.17

A passage towards the unknown, towards momentary sites, finite event-uations.

“We” happens only once.

It is, however, the lack of significance that makes (for) the be tween: be tweens are trivia(l). The be tween has no sense, but makes (for) such sense, each time. The middle cannot be made, the middle makes: itself. Composed of differences, be tweens give way to their differences. Within this middle, there is always an Other– and that may be the point.

As the rhizome, becoming has “no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.”18 Becoming thus “is always in the middle; one can only get it by the middle. A becoming is neither one nor two, nor the relation of the two; it is the in-between, the border or line of flight or descent running perpendicular to both.”19

The middle is not mediocre; the middle is no where. This middle, we recall Deleuze and Guattari, “is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but […] a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away.”20

This is why

[t]his ‘between’, as its name implies, has neither a consistency nor continuity of its own. It does not lead from one to the other; it constitutes no connective tissue, no cement, no bridge. Perhaps it is not even fair to speak of a ‘connection’ to its subject; it is neither connected nor unconnected; it falls short of both; even better, it is that which is at the heart of a connection, the interlacing [….] The ‘between’ is the stretching out [distension] and distance opened by the singular as such.21

Becoming, seen as such, seen as distancing, is becoming in and as difference:

Difference (of being) is itself differant. It withdraws still further from itself, and from there still calls itself forth. It is withdrawn further than any assignation to a ‘difference of being’ (or in a ‘different being’, or in any Other) could ever remove it, and it is altogether yet to come, more so than any annunciation could say.22

Let us, then, insert such différance in,to the be tween itself; let us let the be tween to come, to become itself. The be tween, being itself multivocal, might be that by which becoming is given;23 the be tween, however, does not confine itself to a mere de-signation of differences; evidently, the be tween is in itself différant. It is the between that in turn designates these differences within the different.

It is, obviously, through a distancing that they relate to each other: as and through differences. Different in themselves, different to each other, they substantiate these differences. Both originate in these differences, and both can be conceived only with, in these differences. The between is not to be seen as copy, the be tween not to be seen as model.

And just as nonbeing precedes being, be tween antecedes (its) becoming. Yet, there is neither an after nor is there a before. All there [is] is Gleichursprünglichkeit, equi-originality; a “unique, fleeting moment[…]Is perhaps at this point, along with the I—with the estranged I, set free at this point and in a similar manner—is perhaps at this point an Other set free?”24


For it is only at this point, within this very passage of and towards the in between, that the possibility of (our) presence is opened.

Only in be tweens becoming is, [is] an absent-ed presence, always. The be tween allows for openings, opens itself towards such opening, minds its gap. For it is with,in such fissures that we become.

Be tween itself [is] only when absent; always already beyond themselves, be tweens [are] only when they are not. It is, then, only through an absense of sense that (its) presence is witnessed a presence which, to write with Nancy:

[It] is not essence, but […] birth to presence: birth and death to the infinite presentation of the fact that there is no ultimate sense, only a finite sense, finite senses, a multiplication of singular bursts of sense resting on no unity or substance. And the fact, too, that there is no established sense, no establishment, institution or foundation of sense, only a coming, and comings-to-be of sense.25

Once be-come, (its) sense is to be with-drawn; it is only by such with-drawal that sense is made, that our I is to be sensed.

To come, to become in the be tween, then, is a be-coming distant towards its sense, sense is present distance, is a “distant presence,”26 is a presence that is constantly fleeting. This presence (and note the intonation) is not deferred in that it were re-located to another moment or another place, but this presence presents itself in its difference to itself.

For Nancy, there is no origin of sense: it presents itself, and that is all there is to it.27 Yet, it presents itself only once, and through absence, always already. Distance grounds presence, and this is why presence has no ground/Be-Gründung.

And sense eludes (its) sens-ation. Is it, then, a sense, a sense to be sensed? Does the be tween, then, bear a meaning at all? How to sense the sense of such be tween? It is, once more, the lack of significance that allows for the be tween. De-void of meaning, it is to be sensed. In order to be sensed, it has to be let (gone). Thus, for the be tween to be between, a certain Gelassenheit is needed; towards the either, towards the or. There is no here for the be tween. All there [is] are finite distances.

Be tween: A twofold folding, a folding of betweens that are in be tween, always already.

Evading its presenc/iation, it is with,in the be tween that the between originates. And it is here, where there is no inter, where there [is] only a trans, perhaps, that we become into our transmediate existence, it is here where the impossible possibility of finitude is opened.

It is here, in this end, were we have to think finitude, here, in this end (and how to end an end), where we re-turn to a finite thinking sensu Nancy.

To begin with, here, in this end, as if there could be an end, differences are finitudes. Differences require a finite thinking, a thinking of finitude as such, an absolute finitude, “absolutely detached from all infinite and senseless completion or achievement. Not a thinking of limitation, which implies the unlimitedness of a beyond, but a thinking of the limit as that on which, infinitely finite, existence arises, and to which it is exposed.”28 An unlimited limit, but a limit, and no limit that opens into infinity:

Finitude [is] not in.finitude. While infinitude does not free itself from the principle of identity and/or a last foundation,29 it is with,in (the idea of) finitude that differences un- and re-fold.

Deleuze, of course, dissents.30 Deleuze, if you allow me this hasty conclusion, does not differenciate between finitude and infinitude. He does neither think finitude outside of representation nor does he apply difference to the supposed opposition of finitude:infinitude—rather, he argues, the “entire alternative between finite and infinite applies very badly to difference, because it constitutes only an antinomy of representation”. He is furthermore convinced that infinite representation “suffers from the same defect as finite representation: that of confusing the concept of difference in itself with the inscription of difference in the identity of the concept in general”.31

Difference, however, ought to be related to difference, not to (its) opposition. They differ in themselves, not only in degree.

And finitude names the condition of and for our becoming-in-the-world. Only in finitude we are. It is here where existence exists, it is here where existence becomes into its existence: a once that is always already at once.

Here, existentia is no longer thought of as Vorhandenheit,32 as presence. Becoming-in-finitude, our becoming is a becoming-towards-absence.

Consequently, and as yet again contrasted with traditional ontology, which apprehends being as and in relation to (its) presence, as present/ation of this its presence, we tried to deploy an ontology of finitude here. This finite ontology, this ontology of the fracture, allocates a passage towards the limit, wherein ousia is no longer conceived as presence, but thought (of) as ap_ousiai: as absence/s. A withdrawal of its relation to– (presence), a thinking-it-as-such. As such, becoming is no(t) present. Becoming as such is to be somewhere else, a becoming-elsewhere, a becoming absent; it is only through the always-absent be tween that becoming is.

It is here were we have to abandon, were we have to absent our selves. Our self, as every self, “has its originarity in the loss of self”; to exist, then, “is a matter of going into exile.”33




1 Jean-Luc Nancy. “Res ipsa et ultima.” Trans. Steven Miller. In A Finite Thinking. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2003. p. 315

2 Jean-Luc Nancy.“Of Being Singular Plural.” In Being Singular Plural. Trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O'Bryne Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2000. p. 16

3 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. New York: continuum. 2004. p. 323f.

4 Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton New York: continuum. 2004. p. 324

5 Deleuze and Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. p. 4

6 Jean-Luc Nancy. “Elliptical Sense.” Trans. Jonathan Derbyshire. In A Finite Thinking. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2003. p. 104

7 Jean-Luc Nancy. “Being Singular Plural.” p. 33

8 Jean-Luc Nancy “Elliptical Sense” p. 95

9 As elaborated by Theodor W. Adorno, Ontologie und Dialektik. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2002. p. 36

10 “Jedes Ding strebt danach, soweit es an ihm liegt, in seinem Sein zu verharren.” And: “Das Streben, womit jedes Ding in seinem Sein zu verharren strebt, schließt keine bestimmte, sondern eine unbestimmte Zeit in sich.” Baruch Spinoza. Die Ethik. Ed. Heinz-Joachim Fischer. Wiesbaden: marixverlag. 2007. p. 145

11 Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. p. 44. And, as he elaborates further, there are “three principal moments in the history of the philosophical elaboration of the univocity of being. The first is Duns Scotus, who only thought univocal being; Spinoza, who instead of understanding univocal being as indifferent makes it an object of affirmation, that is, univocal being is identical with a unique and infinite substance; and Nietzsche with his eternal return.” p. 48.

12 Ibid. 45.

13 Ibid. 48.

14 Jean-Luc Nancy. “Elliptical Sense.” p. 110

15 “Entwurf: daß der Mensch sich vom Seienden, ohne daß dies als ein solches schon eröffnet wäre, loswirft in das Seyn.” Martin Heidegger, Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis), Gesamtausgabe, III. Abteilung: Unveröffentlichte Abhandlungen, Vorträge-Gedachtes, Band 65. Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann. 1989. p. 452

16 Ibid. 14. “Zumal im anderen Anfang muß sogleich—zufolge dem Fragen nach der Wahrheit des Seyns—der Sprung in das ´Zwischen´ vollzogen werden. Das 'Zwischen' des Da-seins überwindet den χωρισμ?ς, nicht indem es zwischen dem Seyn (der Seiendheit) und dem Seienden als gleichsam vorhandenen Ufern eine Brücke schlägt, sondern indem es das Seyn und das Seiende zugleich in ihre Gleichzeitigkeit verwandelt. Der Sprung in das Zwischen erspringt erst das Da-sein und besetzt nicht einen bereitstehenden Standplatz.”

17 Ibid. 317. “Das Dasein ist in der Geschichte der Wahrheit des Seins der wesentliche Zwischenfall, d.h. der Ein-fall jenes Zwischen, in das der Mensch ver-rückt werden muß, um erst wieder er selbst zu sein.” Ein-fall here means both “idea” and “invasion.”

18 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. p. 27

19 Ibid. 323.

20 Ibid. 28.

21 Jean-Luc Nancy. “Being Singular Plural.” p. 5

22 Jean-Luc Nancy. “Elliptical Sense.” p. 101

23 See Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. p. 280

24 Paul Celan, “The Meridian” Trans. Jerry Glenn. In Jacques Derrida's Sovereignities in Question—The Poetics of Paul Celan. Ed. & Trans. Thomas Dutoit & Outi Pasanen. New York: Fordham University Press. 2005. p. 180

25 Jean-Luc Nancy. “A Finite Thinking.” Trans. Edward Bullard, Jonathan Derbyshire, and Simon Sparks. In A Finite Thinking. p. 27

26 See Nancy's sense as “Präsenz-auf-Distanz” In Jean-Luc Nancy. Das Vergessen der Philosophie. Ed. Peter Engelmann. Trans. Horst Brühmann. Wien: Edition Passagen. p. 48

27 Ibid. 97

28 Jean-Luc Nancy. “A Finite Thinking.” p. 27

29 Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. p. 60

30 Ibid. 332

31 Ibid. 61

32 Martin Heidegger. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag. 2006. p. 42

33 Jean-Luc Nancy. “Being Singular Plural.” p. 78



Adorno, Theodor W. Ontologie und Dialektik. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. 2002. Print.

Celan, Paul. The Meridian. Trans. Jerry Glenn. In Sovereignities in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. Jacques Derrida. Ed. & Trans. Thomas Dutoit & Outi Pasanen. New York: Fordham University Press. 2005. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: continuum. 2004. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, & Flix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. New York: continuum. 2004. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. Beitrge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) Gesamtausgabe, III. Abteilung: Unverffentlichte Abhandlungen, Vortrge-Gedachtes, Band 65. Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann. 1989. Print.

----.Sein und Zeit. Tbingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag. 2006. Print.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Prsenz-auf-Distanz. In Das Vergessen der Philosophie. Ed. Peter Engelmann, trans. Horst Brhmann. Wien: Edition Passagen. 1987. Print.

----. A Finite Thinking. Trans. Steven Miller. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2003. Print.

----. Being Singular Plural. Trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O'Bryne. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2000. Print.

Spinoza, Baruch. Die Ethik. Ed. Heinz-Joachim Fischer. Wiesbaden: marixverlag. 2007. Print.