Wayless Abyss: Mysticism, Mediation, and Divine Nothingness
Postmedieval, Issue 3, Volume 1 (“Becoming-Media”)
- Mysticism and Mediation
 In his mystical writings, the Flemish mystic John Ruusbroec outlines a mystical itinerary that passes through several phases: an active life, in which union with the divine is achieved via an intermediary; an interior life, in which union with the divine is achieved without intermediary; and a contemplative life, where divine unity paradoxically exists “without distinction or difference.” In discussing this final stage of mystical practice, Ruusbroec refers to a form of contemplation “above reason and without reason,” which he describes in the following way:
…a fruitive tendency which pierces through every condition and all being, and through which they [mystics] immerse themselves in a wayless abyss of fathomless beatitude, where the Trinity of the Divine Persons possess Their Nature in the essential Unity…this beatitude is so onefold and so wayless that in it every essential gazing, tendency, and creaturely distinction cease and pass away. 
Ruusbroec continues in this vein, emphasizing the characteristics of mystical indistinction and indifference, noting that in the final, contemplative stage, the mystics “fall from themselves into a solitude and an ignorance which are fathomless; there all light is turned to darkness; there the three Persons give place to the Essential Unity, and abide without distinction…” 
 Such a union, in which the divine exists indistinctly with the human, would seem to entail the negation of the basic philosophical relation between subject and object that conditions the very possibility of any experience, mystical or otherwise: “To comprehend and understand God as he is in himself, above and beyond all likenesses, is to be God with God, without intermediary or any element of otherness which could constitute an obstacle or impediment.”  To reach this state of contemplation, one must lose oneself “in a state devoid of particular form or measure, a state of darkness in which all contemplatives blissfully lose their way and are never again able to find themselves in a creaturely way.”  Ruusbroec seems to sense the paradox inherent in such a situation – “to contemplate God with God without intermediary.”  For Ruusbroec, the mediation that is the condition of mysticism also has as its goal the negation of all mediation – a strange mediation “without intermediary. “
 Ruusbroec distinguishes between different kinds of mediation. There is a creaturely, human, normative type of mediation: “every meeting is an encounter between two persons coming from different places which are separate from and set over against one another.”  But this normative, lateral mediation is contrasted to the more exceptional, vertical mediation of mysticism – the divine above, the creaturely below, and a Neoplatonic metaphysics of flux and flow passing between them. For Ruusbroec, mystical mediation is different, not only because it is an unhuman form of mediation, but because what is being mediated is of a qualitatively different order: “Christ comes to us from within outward, while we come to him from without inward.”  In a sense, Ruusbroec’s mystical mediation appears to present a positive form of mediation, at the same time that it presents the divine as the horizon of mediation itself.
 Following in the apophatic tradition, Ruusbroec frequently describes this mystical mediation in negative terms: the mystical subject goes out of itself “into a state of darkness devoid of particular form,”  it enters a “state of essential bareness…a fathomless abyss of simplicity,”  goes into “inaccessible height and unfathomable depth…a dark stillness and a wild desert,”  and meets the “wild darkness of the Godhead.”  All distinctions fade away, all differences are emptied of their content, and, in a moment of divine self-abnegation, the mystical subject enters “that dark stillness in which all lovers lose their way.” 
 Despite these poetic evocations of negation and indistinction, Ruusbroec at the same time stresses the affirmative aspects of mediation – even as that which it mediates remains unintelligible. The mystical subject loses all distinction – including the distinction of subject and object, self and world – and yet it is somehow still able to comprehend, as a subject relating to an object, this loss of distinction. Ruusbroec’s own uncertainty reveals itself in his acknowledgement of the paradox of mystical experience. As he notes, “if we could prepare ourselves…in the ways I have shown, we would at once strip ourselves of our bodies and flow into the wild waves of the Sea, from which no creature could ever draw us back.” 
- Ruusbroec and the Wayless Abyss
 A central feature of Ruusbroec’s mystical vocabulary is the combination of a strange non-space of indistinction (the abyss, the fathomless, the depth, and other quasi-spatial tropes) with an assertion of orientation or direction (a way that is “wayless,” an itinerary that leads to self-negation). This combination is best encapsulated in Ruusbroec’s phrase “the wayless abyss.” In this “wayless abyss,” where divine beatitude is also divine darkness, “all uplighted spirits are melted and noughted in the Essence of God.” 
 This phrase can, however, have several meanings. On the one hand, the wayless abyss signifies the spiritual crisis that marks much of the apophatic tradition. The waylessness is a sense of being lost, adrift, and wandering without direction, the listlessness expressed in the Cloud of Unknowing and The Dark Night of the Soul.
 At the same time, the wayless abyss is itself a “way,” an apophatic path to the divine, which, not a being like other beings, can only be a path without a path, a way without a way. The mystical itinerary is “mystical” precisely in this sense, in that it is a way that leads only to the limit of all ways, canalizing as they do all being into the world of individuation and distinctions, the world of metaphysical correlations.
 Finally, the wayless abyss is not simply this sense of being-lost (whether of the existential or apophatic type), but it is expressed by Ruusbroec as being a wayless abyss or fathomless depth. It is as if Ruusbroec not only wanted to convey the sense of wandering and being lost, but that this waylessness paradoxically orients itself or “leads” to a negative region, a region without attributes or properties, an “empty” region without substance.
 All these senses of the phrase “wayless abyss” point to the dilemma of mediation in mysticism. In the mystical context, mediation has as its telos the mystical union with the divine, to the degree that one loses all distinctions and differences, including the metaphysical correlation of self and world, as well as the mystical correlation of natural and supernatural, earthly and divine, human and unhuman.
 However, comprehending this relies on a necessary, apriori condition of difference, distinction, and the subject-object relation. Even at the extremes of mystical experience, one must presume all thought as preconditioned by relationality, a thought that is always the “thought of.” Ruusbroec, working in the apophatic tradition, responds through a language of negation (the divine is “modeless,” “without distinction,” “without any likeness”), or through a logic of contradiction (Ruusbroec, paraphrasing Dionysius the Areopagite, refers to the divine as a “ray of darkness”).
 What results is a dilemma: if mediation in mysticism is preserved as mediation, one is necessarily barred from the full, mystical union with the divine “without distinction”; but if mediation is negated in mysticism, then one forecloses the possibility of comprehending the mystical union as such, there being neither thought nor that which is thought. In short, it appears that mysticism presents us with a theory of mediation that is inherently self-negating, a theory of mediation in which the fulfillment of mediation is in fact the negation of all mediation. 
- Divine Mediation
 Ruusbroec addresses this dilemma directly in The Little Book of Clarification, where he articulates three types of mediation specific to mysticism: a “union with an intermediary,” a “union without intermediary,” and finally a “union without difference.” In the first – union with an intermediary – the divine is mediated to the creaturely through an ethics of relation, a practice of spiritual exercises, and a hermeneutics of scripture, commentary, and contemplation. This is mediation with “virtue, with holy exercises, and with good works,” through which the mystical subject is “united with God through the intermediary of his grace and of their own holy way of life.”  The relation to others, the relation to oneself, and the relation to language or the divine logos, constitute the framework for this type of mystical mediation.
 As Ruusbroec passes to the second type of mediation – union without intermediary – he begins to tease out some of the contradictions in mystical mediation. This second type of mediation is entirely spiritual, in that it transcends the intermediaries of the senses and reason, and yet it is deeply corporeal and affective, rooted in the ec-stasis of the body going outside itself: “This affection and desire pervade heart and senses, flesh and blood, and all of a person’s bodily nature…He feels like a drunken person who is not in control of himself.”  The body passes away, the senses pass away, understanding passes away; ultimately this affective component leads to the removal of all mediators, including that of the self, where Ruusbroec uses the Neoplatonic metaphor of the sun: “With a bare and imageless understanding these persons pass beyond all activity, all exercises, and all things…There their bare understanding is pervaded with eternal resplendence, just as the air is pervaded with the light of the sun.” 
 Yet, even in the mediation without an intermediary, there still remains a minimal distinction between the creature and God: “the creature does not become God, for this union occurs through grace and through a love which has been turned back to God.” Hence, both mediation and the negation of mediation appear to occur in a unidirectional manner: “For this reason the creature experiences in his inward vision a difference and distinction between himself and God.” 
 It is this minimal distinction that is finally negated in the third type of mediation – what Ruusbroec calls “union without difference”:
Here such a person meets God without intermediary, and an ample light, shining from out of God’s Unity, reveals to him darkness, bareness, and nothingness. He is enveloped by the darkness and falls into a modeless state, as though he were completely lost; through the bareness he loses the power of observing all things in their distinctness and becomes transformed and pervaded by a simple resplendence… 
In this final type of mediation, mediation is so perfect that it negates mediation itself, with not even a residue of difference left behind, “a modeless abyss of fathomless beatitude.” With neither a subject-object distinction, nor a mediated context within which they can be made indistinct, the human-philosophical capacities of the empirical, the volitional, and the conceptual are all incapacitated. “There they fall away from themselves and become lost in a state of unknowing which has no ground.”  This is the final stage of apophaticism, “the dark stillness which always stands empty,” where the mystical subject is a non-subject, “drunk with love and asleep in God in a dark resplendence.” 
 However, despite Ruusbroec’s insistence on the indistinction of this final, mystical stage, he again pulls back and re-asserts a minimal, perhaps orthodox, form of mediation. While in one passage Ruusbroec will talk about the negation of the Trinity (“the Persons give way and lose themselves in the maelstrom of essential love”), in the very next passage he will re-assert mediation and the divine hierarchy (a mystical union that “nevertheless remains active as Persons in the work of the Trinity”). 
 Taken together, we can call these three types of mediation in Ruusbroec divine mediation. While Ruusbroec does point out that divine mediation is different from the everyday mediation of human beings with other human beings, other creatures, or with their surroundings, he also borrows the form of this human mediation to describe divine mediation. In outlining a mystical itinerary, Ruusbroec at once implies the necessity of mediation, at the same time that mediation is ultimately that which is negated, as the fulfillment of the mystical itinerary – the fulfillment of the way is waylessness, the fullness of the divine is the abyss. However this also leaves Ruusbroec with no “way” to get there (in as much as there is a “there” at all). In Ruusbroec’s divine mediation, one reaches a stalemate, oscillating between the necessity of mediation (in order to comprehend the difference between the two orders of the human and the divine), and the equal necessity of the loss of all mediation (in which the mystical itinerary aims for a complete unity of the two orders). In short, it appears that there is a conflicted mediation at work in Ruusbroec’s mysticism, one that can be understood in two ways:
- A mediation of a relation to the divine, but the divine understood negatively, as “abyss.” Here mediation itself is positive, but that which is mediated is negative; positive relation and negative divinity. This generally describes a type of mediation we can call immediation.
- A mediation of no relation to the divine at all (except in the positing of this opacity). Here what is mediated is positive, but mediation itself is negative; negative relation, positive divinity. This generally describes a type of mediation we can call antimediation.
 It appears that Ruusbroec wants to allow for a divine mediation that is so full that all differences and distinctions are overcome, resulting in what he eventually describes as “divine resplendence,” “outpouring light,” or the “sparkling stone” of mystical union. Even though divine mediation loses all distinctions in its simple union, and even though it loses mediation itself, Ruusbroec asserts that this is not a loss at all, but really the fulfillment of mediation – an immediation that flows out of what only appears to be an antimediation.
- Eckhart and the Nothing of God
 The mystical aspects of mediation are brought out more clearly by Eckhart, a thinker who shares with Ruusbroec a certain apophaticism.  What is noteworthy in Eckhart’s sermons is his language of negation and nothingness, employed in a range of different ways to describe God, creature, and an enigmatic “beyond” that Eckhart frequently calls the “Godhead” (Gottheit). While Eckhart’s uses of the terms nothing, nothingness, and emptiness have garnered modern comparisons to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Zen Buddhism, when placed in the context of mystical mediation, they taken on a specific set of meanings. 
 In Eckhart’s Sermon 19, a passage from Acts serves as the starting point for a commentary on divine mediation. The passage in question is the following: “Paul rose from the ground and with open eyes saw nothing” (Acts 9:8). The passage describes a mystical experience that entails three components: the mystical subject, (Paul) in his relationship to himself; the act of “seeing” or of mediating between Paul and the divine; and that which Paul sees or which is mediated to Paul, which the passage enigmatically calls “nothing.” In its form we have something completely quotidian, a human subject relating to an object through the mediation of sight, vision, and representation. But in its mystical context the passage deals not with the mediation of two like entities (e.g. both inscribed within time, both finite and bodily, both existing), but with two qualitatively unlike entities. For this reason Eckhart focuses on the elusive object that is mediated, the “nothing” that is paradoxically seen.
 Eckhart derives from this passage four meanings of the term “nothing” (niht): “One is that when he rose up from the ground with open eyes he saw Nothing, and the Nothing was God; for when he saw God he calls that Nothing. The second: when he got up he saw nothing but God. The third: in all things he saw nothing but God. The fourth: when he saw God, he saw all things as nothing.” 
 These different senses of the term “nothing” are further elaborated by Eckhart. He summarizes the first sense of the term “nothing” in the following way: “He saw nothing, that is: God. God is a nothing and God is a something. What is something is also nothing.”  This first sense is the most elaborate, in that it deals with a philosophical notion of God as “Nothing,” but a nothing that is at the same time not simply negative or privative. It is a notion of the divine in terms of a “nothing” that has little to do with any ontological (or ontic) notion of nothing, in which nothing is thought of in terms of the categories of being and non-being, or being and becoming. Put simply, Eckhart’s notion of divine nothing is a non-philosophical notion that has “nothing” to do with ontological categories of being and non-being, as well as their modes or attributes, be they privative, subtractive, or destructive. Hence the notion that the divine is a nothing that is not negative.
 In fact, Eckhart’s first formulation contains within it several variations that elaborate this idea. In one variation Eckhart states: “He saw nothing, that is: God.” Here we have the assertion of a divine unity that encompasses everything, including nothing, and which itself is not reducible to a something or a nothing. The fecundity of God is such that it encompasses that which is without substance, that through which nothing flows forth. There is no mystical experience in the sense of having an experience or of containing something substantial that builds one up. Instead, there is the self-abnegation or “releasement” of the subject, in which one finds a nothing “that is like finding God.”
 This in turn leads to the necessity of thinking the divine as unrelated to the ontological categories of being and non-being – the God beyond Being, the Godhead beyond God. Hence in another variation Eckhart notes: “God is a nothing and God is a something.” This is a recapitulation of the Dionysian assertion of the nameless God, the God without attributes or properties, the God to which no name is adequate. Eckhart, in other sermons, will frequently describe this God-beyond-Being as “the One.”
 And this leads to the limits of philosophical thinking itself, as it requires that the divine – the Nothing that is God, the God-beyond-Being – be thought of in terms of contradiction. Thus, in yet another variation, Eckhart says: “What is something is also nothing.” Eckhart here assumes the inverse of this phrase – that nothing is also a something – and suggests that even this something (of nothing) is conditioned by a further nothing (or “Nothing”), that is the Godhead.
 Together, these variations all come under the Eckhartian assertion that “God is Nothing,” comprising the first sense of the term “nothing.” Eckhart continues, summarizing the second sense of “nothing”: “He saw God, in whom all creatures are nothing.”  Whereas the first sense of “nothing” dealt with the divine in itself, here Eckhart describes a nothing that has to do with the relation between God and creatures. There is, certainly, a theological tradition of regarding creatures as “nothing” compared to God, in the sense that creaturely life is inscribed within temporality and finitude, life and death. This is the moral-theological notion of creaturely nothing. But Eckhart means more than this when describing creatures as nothing. Whereas in the first sense it is God that is nothing, here it is creatures that are nothing. But the nothing of creatures can be taken in several ways.
 Eckhart here uses the language of representation and the dichotomy between subject and object, image and thing. If the relation between any two creatures in the world relies upon the framework of subject and object, seer and seen, knower and known, then understanding creatures in God means understanding the relation between any two creatures as a mediated form of the relation between creature and God. One moves from the normative diagram of creaturely mediation – creature A ßà creature B – to the diagram of divine mediation – creature A ß[creature B]à God. This is the pantheist – or really, panentheist – version of Eckhart. In so far as God is “in” all creatures, all creatures related to God by relating to other creatures. This in turn opens onto the next stage, in which one effectively sees “through” creatures, effacing the creaturely mediation of God, as Eckhart says, one sees “nothing but God.”
 In the third sense of the term “nothing,” Eckhart notes that “[s]eeing nothing, he saw God. The light that is God flows out and darkens every light…the Nothing was God.”  Here Eckhart makes a transition from the relation between creatures and God, to the relation of creatures to God. Using the mystical motifs of darkness and light, Eckhart follows in the Dionysian-apophatic tradition by describing a superlative form of darkness or nothing that goes beyond the dichotomies of light/dark, something/nothing. Here one moves from optical sight to mystical vision, from a metaphysics of being to a non-metaphysics of nothing or “the One.”
 Finally, Eckhart summarizes the fourth and last sense of “nothing”: “In seeing nothing, he saw the divine Nothing.”  Here Eckhart suggests that the divine Nothing, being neither optical sight, nor representational thought, nor metaphysical substance, must ultimately remain both indifferent and indistinct. The “blindness” Eckhart references is both a turning away from the world (from regarding the world as substantial) and an emptying or “nothing-ing” of the self. Blindness is here an opacity, a total equivocity or non-relation between earthly and divine, creature and God. But this is not a nihilism, for this turning-away and self-emptying ultimately indicate the pervasiveness, the immanence, of the divine Nothing…in everything. Eckhart often returns to this condition of blind nothing, this gesture of “seeing nothing” with “eyes open.”
 These four senses of the term “nothing” from Eckhart’s sermon can be recapitulated in relation to the philosophical problematic of mediation that we saw in Ruusbroec:
- First definition: the nothing of finite creatures. Creatures are “nothing” in the sense that they are created in time, and as time. Phenomenally, creatures exist in the world as flux and flow, as coming-to-be and passing-away (to borrow Aristotle’s terms). This nothing is, as we’ve noted, the moral-theological notion, the devaluation of life and being, the “flight from creatures” advocated by theological orthodoxy. Nothing in this sense is privative.
- Second definition: the nothing of creaturely being. Creatures are created in order to be (as Eckhart notes, “He created all things that they may be”). Thus there is a prior non-being that both precedes the creature and is its philosophical ground. Creatures are “nothing” in that they are founded on a primordial, pre-existent, non-being. Nothing in this sense is subtractive.
- Third definition: The nothing of God. God is that which is outside of time, space, and modality. God is “nothing” in so far as God is not a being among other beings. But neither is God simply the supreme being or the most perfect being. God is, in this context, the Being of all beings, the superlative being whose particular, conditioning form of being bears little relation to the conditioned status of creaturely beings. Nothing in this sense is superlative.
- Fourth definition: The nothing of the Godhead. Eckhart’s own brand of apophaticism frequently puts him in a situation in which God alone is insufficient. There is, “beyond” God, the Godhead, to which no attributes, properties, or names can be given. Importantly, for Eckhart the metaphysics of being does not pertain to the Godhead. Eckhart often describes the Godhead as “the One.” The Godhead, as the One, bears no relation to Being, or to Non-Being. In one sermon Eckhart asserts, “God is all, and is one.”  Elsewhere he notes that the Godhead is “a non-God, a non-spirit, a non-person, a non-image; rather, He is a sheer pure limpid One, detached from all duality.”  Here we can put forth a “heretical” reading of Eckhart. In this final sense of nothing, the nothing of finite creatures (first definition) is simply a pretext for the real identity or indistinction of the nothing of creaturely being (second definition) and the empty God (third definition). All of this is what is encompassed in the Eckhartian notion of nothing, in this final sense. The nothing of the now, the nothing of all that is. Nothing in this final sense is nullifying.
 Before, we saw that the problem of divine mediation led Ruusbroec to a dilemma, a fork in the road between two types of divine mediation: either that of there being no relation to the divine, or that of there being a relation to the divine, as nothing. With Eckhart, we see that this is a false dilemma – but one must abrogate some of the most basic principles of philosophical and theological thinking to reach this point. In our heretical reading of Eckhart, divine mediation has little to do with a negative that must be overcome by a positive. Instead, divine mediation is the collapse of negative and positive, subtractive and superlative, into the strange negative immanence, an immanence of nothing that Eckhart terms the Godhead. If, for Ruusbroec, mediation leads to despair, for Eckhart mediation is “joyful.”
 But Eckhart too runs into problems. For one, any careful reading of Eckhart must acknowledge that this talk about God as nothing, the immanent Godhead, and the arid, empty, unhuman desert is always doubled by an equal commitment to the Trinity, the kenosis or self-emptying of Christ, and a Person-oriented mysticism of Father, Son, and Human.  Put simply, the “philosophical” Eckhart is always correlated to the “theological” Eckhart. Both are, perhaps, brought into an uneasy relation, and it is this assemblage that constitutes the “mystical” Eckhart. Eckhart at once shores up the limits of the human while at the same time asserting a profound commitment to the human – but a human that is also a “letting-be,” a human that is a “living without a why.”
 This tension is illustrated in Eckhart’s different uses of the term “nothing.” On the one hand, there is the nothing of creaturely life, the non-substantiality of what is ephemeral and temporary, the nothing of the all-too-human in its creaturely finitude. On the other hand, there is the nothing of the Godhead, the nothing that superlatively encompasses everything, including the very dichotomy of something and nothing, being and non-being. This is the nothing that is at once transcendent and immanent, the nothing that is at once the apophatic inaccessibility of the divine and the very ground of all that is, as it is.
 We have outlined four usages of the term “nothing” in Eckhart. But we could have also streamlined them into two, into a basic distinction between the nothing of creatures (of the human, of creaturely mediation) and the nothing of God (of the unhuman, of divine mediation). But even this division ultimately breaks down in Eckhart. The nothing of creatures immediately opens onto the nothing of the godhead, collapsing the division into what Eckhart describes as the nothing of that which is, the nothing of “letting be.” So, while our strong reading of Eckhart pushes for total indistinction and the paradoxical immanence of nothing, we must also note that, even in his most heretical moments, Eckhart still preserves a basic distinction between two types of nothing.
- Divine Logics and Divine Mediation
 As exemplars of an apophatic form of mysticism, both Eckhart and Ruusbroec frame mysticism as a form of mediation. But mediation in mysticism is always unstable. Sometimes it tends towards a more kataphatic affirmation, as it is in Ruusbroec’s emphasis on divine light and the mysticism of jewels, gems and the “sparkling stone.” Something similar occurs in many of Eckhart’s sermons, where the divine is characterized, in Neoplatonic terms, as fecund, generous, and flowing forth.  In these instances, mediation becomes so full, so complete, so characterized by generosity, that it paradoxically negates itself and all middle terms, becoming immediation.
 At other moments, mediation comes up against a limit, in which that which is mediated is rendered as opaque, obscure, and unintelligible. This “darkness” is not due to any privation or lack, but due to its alterity with respect to the human. The “divine darkness” is neither privative or oppositional, but really superlative, an indication of a limit to thought and to the human. The minimalist accessibility that remains can only be described in negative terms. Hence Ruusbroec’s phrase “the wayless abyss,” and Eckhart’s notions of the “silent desert” and the godhead as a “nothing.” This unhuman, apophatic limit is – at least in Eckhart – not simply an other “out there,” but fully immanent to all that is. One can only relate to it by not relating to it – indeed, by negating all forms of relationality. The nothing of the Godhead is, in Eckhart’s terms, the “negation of negation,” the indifference of the transcendent and immanent, a paradoxical immanence of “nothing.” Hence mediation, while never ceasing to be mediation, becomes so “empty,” so full of negation, that it is evacuated and becomes antimediation.
 However, Ruusbroec and Eckhart also differ in important ways. In Ruusbroec the “wayless abyss” is ultimately recuperated into the “sparkling stone,” the void of an unintelligible God ultimately sublimated into a mystical union of divine light. In Ruusbroec, the human is recuperated into the divine, and the divine accommodates the human. In a sense, one hominizes the divine, in so far as the human is brought into the kataphatic light of beatitude.
 By contrast, for Eckhart the condition of mysticism is the loss of self in the divine – or, more accurately, the emptying of the self or self-abnegation that parallels the emptiness or nothingness of the Godhead. Eckhart takes to the limit a motif commonly found in mystical texts – that of the mystical union as the dissolution of all differences, including the difference between self and God, the creaturely and the divine, the human and unhuman. With Eckhart, one divinizes the human.
 For Ruusbroec, mysticism is a movement from the nothing of an apophatic, inaccessible God, to the fullness of divine union. For Eckhart, mysticism is a movement from the fullness of God to the nothing of the Godhead. With Ruusbroec all mediation tends towards an immediation of light and fullness, giving us something like a kataphatic gem. With Eckhart, all mediation tends towards antimediation of darkness and emptiness, giving us something like the apophatic desert.
 We must also remember that for both thinkers mediation is really divine mediation, that is, the mediation not of two points within a single reality, but a mediation between realities. But this comes with a few caveats: that the condition of the “other” reality being mediated must remain a limit (sometimes unintelligible, sometimes inaccessible, sometimes both), and that (at least in Eckhart’s version), the “other” reality being mediated is not out there, not above or beyond, not an other place to which one must travel or with which one must connect.
 One senses that Ruusbroec wants to assert immediation (the absolute fullness of mystical union “without difference”). Yet he will also preserve some basic form of mediation, as indicated in his numerous motifs of light, sight, and optics. For Ruusbroec, divine mediation leads to an ultimatum, a dilemma of mediation, a logic of either/or: either one opts for the fullness of divine union and does away with all mediation, or one preserves mediation but then must accept a conciliatory, partial form of divine union.
 The dilemma is a bit different for Eckhart. In Eckhart’s sermons, there is a consistent assertion of antimediation (in his motifs of the desert, the emptying of the self, the nothing of the Godhead). Eckhart too maintains a minimal form of mediation, seen in his distinction between the two basic types of nothing (the nothing of creatures and the nothing of the Godhead). For Eckhart, divine mediation tends towards a logic of both/and: in the coincident nothing of Godhead and creatures, there is both the mediation of nothing, and the nothing that is mediation. All mediation is a pretext for an antimediation that, at times, becomes indissociable from immediation.
 On first glance, it appears that what Ruusbroec is unable or unwilling to accept, Eckhart will embrace; where Ruusbroec stops short, Eckhart perseveres. But this would be unfair, both to the profound apophaticism in Ruusbroec, and to the equally profound affirmationism in Eckhart. For both, divine mediation is that form of relation that questions relationality in and of itself. In particular, divine mediation is unstable and wobbly, always tending towards either immediation or antimediation – or, in Eckhart, towards the very indistinction between them. Mysticism is that form of mediation that suggests to us that there is in fact no mediation as such, no steady-state or stable connection that we can, with any degree of confidence, call “mediation.” In the parlance of modern communications theory, there are no fixed senders or receivers, no well-established channels, and no referential messages (or noise). The “mediation” of divine mediation is simply a way station to either the fullness of mediation (and thus its negation as mediation) or the emptiness of mediation (and thus its affirmation as already realized). For mystical thinkers like Ruusbroec and Eckhart, mediation is always failing, flailing, and breaking down into the darkness of God or the equally incomprehensible luminosity of divine self-abnegation. One is confronted with the numinous, absolute opacity of the divine, or one is engulfed in the prodigious flux of divinity; one either confronts the black, viscous void of divine discontinuity, or one is set ablaze in the sparkling brilliancy of divine continuity. Complete difference or complete indifference – these are the poles of divine mediation, be it of a kataphatic or apophatic type.
- Metaphysical Correlation and Mystical Correlation
 These aspects of divine mediation allow us to re-frame mysticism as a philosophical problematic. In the Western tradition, nearly every philosophical position, every philosophical “decision,” every assertion of being, identity, or oneness, relies on a minimal relation between thought and world, self and other, subject and object. How exactly is the mediation of mysticism – divine mediation – different from the numerous examples of mediation one finds in philosophy? In other words, how is divine mediation different from metaphysical mediation? Both borrow the form of relationality that has now become the common parlance of modern communications theory (A connected to B via a medium X). Both also presume an apriori separation that subsequently requires some mediated correlation.
 However, there is one possible way in which they differ. In traditional metaphysics we have the correlation between subject and object, within a given order of the real (thought and world, self and other, and so on). The “real” may be material or ideal, noumenal or phenomenal, visible or invisible, but however it is construed, it remains the condition of possibility for thought. Let us call this metaphysical correlation. Metaphysical correlation, in presuming a minimal mediation that makes thought possible, subscribes to a “principle of sufficient philosophy.” 
 However, with mysticism, we do not so much have mediation within a given real, as we have the correlation between different orders of the real, unilaterally posited as the relation between the real from the perspective of the human, and an other real, that can only be termed the “unhuman.” Let us call this mystical correlation. In theological terms, this relation may be between the natural and supernatural, the earthly and the divine, creature and Creator, and so on.
 While both the mystical and the metaphysical borrow the form of mediation, what results in each is a different type of correlation between terms. In metaphysical correlation thought is always turned towards the world; thought is always “chasing” its correlate, on its trail, ferreting it out into the open – it is always a “thought of.” In metaphysical correlation, thought is a hunt. In mystical correlation, by contrast, thought is always turned away from the world (or it is only turned towards the world in so far as the world is this other order of the real, the “out there” the same as the “in here”). In mystical correlation thought is always oriented towards something that is understood to be in excess of thought; thought is always in relation to its own negation. In mystical correlation, thought is a sacrifice.
 Metaphysical correlation is always after a response that it has already posited before it begins the task of thinking. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-congratulatory gesture. It has caught its prey before the hunt has begun. By contrast, mystical correlation can never receive a response, precisely because it is after that which is simply without-thought (or non-thought). It can only succeed if it fails; there can only be affirmation if there is negation. If metaphysical correlation is agonistic, mystical correlation is ritualistic.
 Can this be accepted, not only as the distinction between metaphysics and mysticism, but as the critical limit that the latter poses for the former? If mysticism is a relation between two orders of the real, two “reals,” instead of a relation between two entities within a single real, then this means that the intrinsic relations of metaphysical correlation (self-world; human-human) are displaced or scaled up to the extrinsic relations of mystical correlation (earthly and divine; human-unhuman). This would remain the case even if the unhuman real is considered to be fully immanent to the human real.
 Mystical correlation is a type of mediation that devolves around a limit. That limit is the unilateral “perspective” of the human real towards the unhuman real; a limit of the human towards something that it can only call the unhuman. This limit is neither relative nor absolute – or it is absolute only in its relativity (it is absolute from the human perspective). This also means that the mystical correlation always fails. It is a loop that never closes, a spiral that never fully turns. It is a relation that can only be verified “from this side.” It is a relation that is only verified in the blank, impersonal opacity of the “divine nothing,” the wayless abyss, the “divine darkness.”
 From a contemporary perspective, what thinkers like Eckhart and Ruusbroec offer is a way of reconsidering a problem that is at once mystical and metaphysical – the problem of the anthropocentrism of thought. Both Eckhart and Ruusbroec present us with a form of divine mediation as the form of relation between the human and the unhuman, a situation in which the fullest mediation and the impossibility of mediation become one in the same.
 In relation to current philosophical trends, immediation and antimediation are simply the premodern avatars of, respectively, a philosophy of continuity (the continentalist tendency towards immanence, vitalism, vibrancy, the phenomenology of affect) and a philosophy of discontinuity (the analytical tendency towards assemblages, objects, actants, and so on). But we can already see in thinkers like Eckhart a willingness to break down such distinctions, in his notion of the Godhead as the immanence of nothing, the divine as negative fecundity (a “negation of negation”), and the absolute opacity of “letting be” (of that which is what it is).
 In so far as mysticism is concerned with the relation between two orders of the real (divine and earthly, supernatural and natural), it can be regarded as an instance of mediation. In some instances the divine is so in excess of the earthly that it can only be described as a total annihilation, a self-abnegation. Mediation is so in excess of itself that, paradoxically, mediation is annihilated, mediation becomes immediation. Similarly, in the apophatic tradition, the unhuman, divine element stands in such indifference and indistinction to the human, that only negative terms can be used to describe it – mediation is null and void, a gulf or abyss, a “nothingness” in which all that is mediated is the paradoxical impossibility of mediation itself; mediation becomes antimediation. Together, these terms – mediation, immediation, and antimediation – describe the spectrum of mystical correlation, viewed primarily through an apophatic prism.
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 Jan van Ruysbroeck, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, The Sparkling Stone, and The Book of Supreme Truth, trans. C.A. Wynschenk, ed. Evelyn Underhill (London: John M. Watkins, 1951), p. 245.
 John Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals and Other Works, trans. James A. Wiseman (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 146.
 Ibid., p. 147. Ruusbroec is here reiterating the mystical theme of kenosis, in which the divine “empties” itself out into the human creature, and, at the same time, the “self-emptying” of the human creature that prepares it for divine union.
 Ibid., italics mine.
 Ibid., p. 116.
 Ibid., p. 117.
 Ibid., p. 148.
 Ibid., p. 152.
 Ibid., p. 100.
 Ibid., p. 132.
 Ibid., p. 152.
 Ibid., p. 147.
 This is a motif articulated in the apophatic tradition by Dionysius the Areopagite and subsequently by John Scottus Eriugena. For more, see Thomas Carlson, Indiscretion: Finitude and the Naming of God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 154-89; Michael Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 34-62; Denys Turner, The Darkness of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 19-49; as well as my After Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), pp. 25ff.
 Ibid., p. 264.
 Ibid., p. 261. Ruusbroec further elaborates this idea of mystics being “drunk with God”: “With restless longing they often raise their heads to heaven with eyes wide open; at one moment they are full of joy, at another they are weeping; at one moment they are singing, at another shouting; first they feel weal, then woe, and often both at once; they jump and run about, clap their hands together, kneel and bow down, and flurry about in many similar ways…”
 Ibid., p. 264.
 Ibid., p. 265.
 Ibid., p. 132.
 Ibid., p. 265.
 Ibid., p. 265, 267.
 Ibid., p. 262.
 Ruusbroec, however, was at pains to distance himself both from the Eckhartian tradition, as well as from heresies such as the Free Spirit movement. For more, see James A. Wiseman’s introduction in the Paulist edition The Spiritual Espousals and Other Works, as well as Louis Dupré’s The Common Life (New York: Crossroad, 1984), and Evelyn Underhill’s intellectual biography Ruysbroeck (London: G. Bell, 1915).
 On the concept of nothing/nothingness in Eckhart with respect to continental philosophy, see John Caputo, The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought (New York: Fordham University Press, 1986), pp. 97-139; Beverly Lanzetta, “Three Categories of Nothingness in Eckhart,” Journal of Religion 72.2 (1992): 248-68; Reiner Schürmann, Meister Eckhart, Mystic and Philosopher (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), pp. 135-68. On Eckhart’s relation to Buddhism, see Ueda Shizuteru, “’Nothingness’ in Meister Eckhart and Zen Buddhism,” The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School and Its Contemporaries, ed. Frederick Franck (New York: World Wisdom, 2004), pp. 157-70.
 Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, ed. and trans. Maurice O’C. Walshe (New York: Herder & Herder, 2009), Sermon 19, p. 137.
 Ibid., p. 140.
 Ibid., p. 141.
 Ibid., Sermon 97, p. 469.
 Ibid., Sermon 96, p. 465.
 Caputo, in The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought, notes this apparent duplicity in his comparison of Eckhart and the later Heidegger.
 On Eckhart’s metaphysics of flow, see Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart (New York: Crossroad, 2001), pp. 71ff. As McGinn notes, God in Eckhart is at once bullitio (overflowing, beneficent, generosity) and ebullitio (flowing onward and outward into creatures and the world).
 This is a coinage of François Laruelle to describe the pre-philosophical decision of philosophy, that anything is philosophizable. See his Principes de la non-philosophie (Paris: PUF, 1996), pp. 22-30.