The event of appropriation grants, each time,
the span from which history takes the
warranty of an epoch. But that span in which
being gives itself to openness can never be
found in historically calculated time nor with
its measures. The time span granted shows
itself only to a meditation already capable of
presurmising the history of being, even if this
succeeds only in the form of an essential want
which, soundlessly and without consequence,
shakes everything true and real.
“Recollection in Metaphysics”1
These lines, which close Heidegger’s two-volume work on Nietzsche, speak of the epochs that articulate history and of a silent upheaval in which a transition sets in that shakes everything. In order to follow the transition at stake and the displacements it entails, one has first to see what the understanding of time is which, in this text, allows Heidegger to hint at some consequences of the history of being.
The time of that history is made of ‘spans’. Understood properly, this word (Frist) can help clarify what is meant by the end of epochs. ‘Span’ is here the generic concept that covers, on one hand, epochal time, and on the other, a time no longer epochal, one that we may already have begun to live. Heidegger’s claim that the history made of epochal breaks is drawing to its close does not amount to reclaiming, after a heterogeneous past, homogeneity for an age to come. He does not rehabilitate linear time against its scattergram. It is true, with the contemporary turn time no longer spells itself out in epochs, in sudden foundings of eras in which being holds itself in reserve: no longer through the beginnings of economies in which presencing remains controlled by one arch-present. Still, after the silent exit from epochal articulation, time continues to articulate itself. This happens through a modification of the ‘spans’.
The time spans, he says, arise from “the event of appropriation,” from Ereignis understood as the entry into mutual relations of everything present to an age. If that entry into presence—presencing—“grants the spans,” they necessarily remain incalculable. In meditating on them we are seized by an “essential want,” the want of a hold on them. Heidegger is denying here any type of history or historical transition governed by laws and hence somehow predictable. The spans of the history of being are measurable neither by the historicist’s yardstick nor by that of Providence, whether secularized or only metaphoricized. Rather, the event opens a kind of history one can only “presurmise,” ahnen. This word is polemically antirationalist. If the modes of time that arrange presence for a while arise from the event, then history—epochal as well as non-epochal—is not only discontinuous but as such it remains alien to reason. No longer can it be said that throughout civilization reason supremely rules the world; still less that reason comes to itself in and through history, that reason recognizes in history its own aspiration to complete self-possession. Those tenets of a triumphant rationalism can no longer be sustained once the method for studying history has become phenomenological: once presencing has become the very issue that reveals and conceals itself in the finite fields it opens in arresting the aletheiological constellations at this or that configuration. To say that the time spans proceed from the event is to say that no historical time, no time, is continuous. The passages from one constellation to another are reason’s distress, its want (Not).
Nor are the time spans, granted by the event, simple units of duration or time lapses. The text says that they grant in turn the units we can measure in years, decades, centuries. In other words, these spans fulfill a mediating role and must not be confused with historical periods. Heidegger is again thinking along transcendental lines. He is looking for conditions of possibility that, in agreement with the three-tiered temporal difference, have to be equally three-tiered: the sudden spans are the conditions that render possible the periods of history, but they are themselves conditioned and rendered possible by the event. Heidegger is thus playing out, from the viewpoint of history, the triadic difference whose non-temporal terms were (beginning with the middle term): beingness (die Anwesenheit, die Seiendheit), which renders entities (das Anwesende, das Seiende) possible (the metaphysical difference) and is itself rendered possible by being (das Anwesen, das Sein) (the phenomenological difference). The poverty of reason before history is such that no deductive argument can lead from the mediating function of beingness to the mediating function of the “spans”: they appear only to a gaze “already capable of presurmising the history of being.” This points once again to the ‘impasse’ of Being and Time and the necessity of raising the being question from a different angle. The juncture of the metaphysical and the phenomenological difference does not, by itself, yield access to the history of being. For that, another presurmise or pre-understanding is needed.
‘Beingness’ designates what metaphysicians have tended to hypostatize as the a-temporal being-itself. But now the ‘spans’, discovered through the pre-understanding that being has a history, bridge the hiatus between lived time and being-itself as time. They translate being into history and only thereby make it thinkable as event. In Heidegger’s earlier vocabulary, they translate being’s temporality (Temporalität) into Dasein’s (Zeitlichkeit).2 From such radical temporalization, history “takes the warranty” of an age. The spans historicize being as event by punctuating it. Due to that transcendental priority, they cannot be measured “in historically calculated time.” These mediating terms are phenomenologically indispensable inasmuch as they allow Heidegger to think of a history that is no longer epochal. An anarchic economy would comply with those spans without the principial over-determination that is the very nature of epechein.
Indeed, today the time spans that are granted by the event and that warrant our historical age open on something that is “already” ours, that now and henceforth is possible. Whereas the first lines of the opening quotation—which speak of time articulated in spans, of their provenance in the event, and of their transcendentally mediating function—apply to all reversals in history, the last lines speak of the one turning, the technological age. It is at the moment of metaphysical closure that “soundlessly and without consequence, everything true and real” overturns. “Here everything turns about,” “Hier kehrt sich das Ganze um.”3 The closure is the moment of absolute distress. In the reversals of epochal history distress is relative—relative to the principle whose economic over-determination is fading. For example, when the medieval field of the creator-creature tension overturns and yields to the field of the modern subject-object tension, the distress is great. The arch-present God who says ‘I am He who is’ is no longer available for measuring the true. Man, who says ‘I think,’ is now arch-present. As a guarantee of the real, no hierarchy of participation but only an act of perception presents itself. To be sure, the want left by one vanishing principle “shakes everything true and real,” but it is a want, a distress, relative to a substitution of referents. At the beginning of modernity, the principial office passes from God to man, but it does not pass away as an office. At the turn beyond epochal history, on the other hand, distress is absolute and “essential.” The dissolution of referents signifies that with technology the cycle of supremely true and real entities—World, God, Man—is exhausted. They have withered “without a sound,” but also “without a consequence,” since no new representation of a supreme entity is there to take over. Where now is the measure of truth and the guarantee of the real to be sought? This is the essential distress; the crisis of reason is only its backlash. The displacements from one metaphysical epoch to another are principial. But if metaphysics is the ensemble of economies each governed by a shape of archē, then the displacements from the metaphysical to the post-metaphysical era are anarchic. Only with these do Hölderlin s words apply: “Is there a measure on earth? There is none.”4
From the viewpoint of grounding any practical philosophy, the displacements that accompany the dissolution of referents affect the key notions through which philosophers have attempted to comprehend action. Here are five of those fundamental notions: goal, responsibility, function, destiny, violence. Their selection, manifestly arbitrary, results from the rank they hold either in traditional theories of praxis, or in Heidegger. To be sure, other concepts would be worth submitting to the trial of economic displacement. I have done so above with ‘freedom’ and ‘will’ or ‘decision’, and it appeared that with Heidegger’s Kehre, these turn from moral into topological concepts. Regarding the five notions just mentioned, I wish to show what happens to them when the open field of presencing is no longer understood as occupied or possessed by a measure-giving first—what happens when all cathexis is withdrawn from that field.
It should be understood that this trial is in the first place a test. Like Kant5 and Nietzsche,6 Heidegger makes an attempt with thinking, a Denkversuch. The thought model to be tested in its practical consequences is the one I have called the hypothesis of closure, the hypothesis that with the technological turn the epochal principles wither away because all that there is—‘the real’—shows itself without the illusory lid that has stabilized the incidence of the temporal difference.
In the wood are paths which, mostly
overgrown, end quite suddenly in the
They are called woodpaths.
Each runs its separate way, but in the same
forest. Often it seems as though one
resembles the other. Yet it only seems so.
Woodcutters and forest rangers are familiar
with the paths. They know what it means to
be on a woodpath.
To understand the bearing of the metaphor of woodpaths in Heidegger, it suffices to oppose it to a declaration of faith in teleology like Aristotle’s in the first lines, already cited, of his Nicomachean Ethics: “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good.”8 Using the concept of Holzwege, Heidegger attempts to think a certain abolition of finality or goal-directedness in action.
The observation that all our activities tend toward some good serves Aristotle as the point of departure for ascertaining which among the sciences has to be the ‘architectonic’ or first science. If such a science exists, it will govern all knowledge, just as the subject matter of which it is the science will govern all action and all choice. The master science would be the science of the master goal. It would be directive for the many sciences we might conceive just as the one end would be directive for the many practical ends we might pursue. Whether in the last analysis the guiding science turns out to be wisdom or politics9 matters little compared to the totalistic sweep of the concept of end utilized in this way of raising the issue of praxis. With the medieval Aristotelians, the master science that treats the “ultimate end” will be theology. It, too, will be born from a declaration of unqualified faith not only in goal-directedness as such, but in one particular goal: “Anything whatsoever tends in its operation toward the ultimate end.”10 No “woodpaths,” here, that “end quite suddenly in the untrodden.” Under the rule of end, all paths, theoretical as well as practical, lead somewhere, even if windingly: namely, to happiness. The idea of a master science supposes, first of all, that in each and every activity there is an end or goal to be attained. It supposes furthermore that the rule of end transcends the distinction between theory and practice. Lastly, it supposes the unicity of the ultimate end.
Within the Aristotelian edifice, structured as it is by the representation of ends and of one end, Heidegger begins by displacing the foundations. His deconstruction of Aristotle, it will be recalled, revealed that both ϑεωϱία and πϱᾶξις are systematically rooted in ποίησις. In actual fact and Aristotle’s own professions to the contrary notwithstanding, the master science, from which spring the declarations of unqualified faith in finality, is neither wisdom nor politics, but know-how, technē. Goals are aimed at, first and foremost, in acts of production. As shown in the Physics, the changes affecting sensible substance and hence their causes provide the proper context where ends rule. Historically as well as systematically, only because fabrication is the key-experience from which metaphysics springs can the representation of ends, final causality, come to govern philosophy in general and each of its divisions in particular. It is in making things that the three other causes come into play once the end is given. Once an artifact has been conceived by an artificer, it becomes the end that ‘moves’ the efficient agent, form, and matter. One does not seek out a workman, draft a model, and select the appropriate materials without being guided by the idea of the final piece to be realized. For Heidegger, the preeminence of finality in philosophy results from Aristotle’s raising the ‘entelechy’, the entity as completed, to the rank of being par excellence. The prestige of finality in “every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit” rests on the representation of sensible substance as made, be it by man or by nature.
Before pointing out a second displacement traced by Heidegger, which affects the notion of ousia, a warning is in order concerning the qualification with which, under the metaphor of ‘woodpaths’, he challenges the declarations of faith in finality. That challenge obviously does not consist in an attempt at a blanket cancellation of teleological thinking. Rather, it circumscribes and thereby limits the domain in which such thinking rightfully obtains. What the possible end of metaphysics would cancel is the possibility of metabasis eis allo genos, the transposition of goal-directedness beyond the domain of making into those of acting and of thinking in general. As epochal history draws to a close, thinking cannot be the only doing that remains without ends, without any preconceived goal to pursue in a deliberate course, without linear discourse. Action, too, suffers the economic loss of finality, a component that applies to production alone. The possibility of closure thus entails a twofold impoverishment, goallessness in thinking and in acting. At least this is how Hannah Arendt understood the metaphor of woodpaths: “Of . . . this thinking one cannot say that it has a goal. . . . Even the laying down of paths itself is [not] conducive to reaching a goal sighted beforehand and guided thereto. . . . The metaphor of ‘woodpaths’ hits upon something essential.” To mark clearly that we suffer the loss of goals not only in our mental acts but in praxis as well, Arendt adds that “the thinking so described can no more have a final goal—cognition or knowlege—than can life itself.”11
The first displacement Heidegger traces in the beginning of metaphysics amounts to restricting the legitimate rule of ends. The second consists, not in a narrowing, but in a broadening of scope. It concerns the semantics of ousia. He shows that the pre-metaphysical meaning of this noun extends beyond sensible substance. Metaphysics, on the other hand, has constituted itself immediately, originally, as ousiology, and ousiology as teleology. “The word ousia was coined as a ‘term’ only as late as Aristotle. The coinage consists in his separating from this word’s denotation something decisive which he retains as its sole meaning.”12 What is that single sense of ousia that Aristotle selects from an earlier and greater richness of the word? It can only be the one that predominates in his ‘groundbook’, the Physics, as that book’s very issue. Aristotle’s single sense of ousia can only spring from his “interpretation of motility, the most difficult issue to be thought in the entire history of Western metaphysics.” Aristotle seizes upon the word ousia and sorts out from its denotative field what pertains to motion and its end. The movement of production terminates in substance. If the ‘aiming’ at some end comes to fulfillment with substance, then that is the ultimate ground out of which change as such becomes intelligible. Substance is ultimate because it, and it alone, contains its end in itself; it no longer aims at anything but itself. To have one’s end in oneself is what ‘entelechy’ means. “This noun, coined by Aristotle himself, is the basic word of his thinking. . . . Only when something is in the mode of entelecheia do we address it as properly being.”13 A third coinage of Aristotle’s designates the same completeness, energeia. Only substance stands fully ‘in the work’, in its own ergon. Whether it is by nature, phusei on, or as an artifact, technē on, substance is what all change aims at. This meaning of being—having one’s end in oneself—remains paradigmatic throughout the metaphysical epoch. But what is it that this concept of self-possession as the universal standard for being omits from the initial semantic scope of ousia? What has that coinage cost?
“The other essential moment of ousia, coming into presence, is omitted. Now, that is the decisive factor for the Greek conception of being.”14 Heidegger’s entire effort consists in recovering, at the other end of the metaphysical epoch, that broader sense of being as coming into presence (Anwesung) or presencing (Anwesen). As early as Being and Time, he understands ousia as presence (Anwesenheit).15 Later on, once he has elaborated the three elements of the ontological difference (Seiendes-Seiendheit-Sein: entity, beingness, being or ‘to be’), ousia designates the second term of the triad, the being of entities conceived metaphysically, as beingness. With the temporal difference (Anwesendes-Anwesenheit-Anwesen: the present-presence-presencing), parousia—that surplus Aristotle allowed to escape from his selective grasp—designates the third term of the triad, being as the event of presencing. The deconstruction of Aristotelian physics thus yields the triad on-ousia-parousia: present entity, its mode of presence, presencing.16
The disjunction between ousia, as made suitable for the account of physical change, and its surplus, omitted by Aristotle, reveals that the prestige of final causes in philosophy, with the attendant prestige, whether overt or covert, of the book, Physics, results from the systematic predominance of one phenomenal region over all others, that of production and the producible. This shrinking of perspective has engulfed acting and thinking in the finalist schema of making and has shaped an epoch. Teleocracy exacts a narrowing of the gaze which retains from parousia only ousia and from presencing, only the full presence of the end to substance. The lines from the Nicomachean Ethics cited above demonstrate the repercussion of that sweeping interest in goals upon the theory of action. As for Heidegger’s own interest in this deconstruction of practical teleology, it should be obvious that he must restrict the rule of ends to the sole domain of fabrication because his interest is to widen the sense of ousia (as parousia) beyond the domain of sensible substance.
It is the subjection of thinking and acting to the representation of theoretical and practical ends, of goals, that Heidegger repeals by the metaphor ‘woodpaths’. That metaphor is one way of undoing the telic boundaries imposed upon phenomena by Aristotle’s coinages of terms.
The reign of goals is repealed first of all for thinking, as indicated by the opposition between thinking and knowing. In seeking knowledge we seek certitude about contents. In certainty the quest for knowledge comes to rest as in its end. Thinking, on the other hand, does not have any contents, properly speaking, to pursue. “Three dangers threaten thinking,” says Heidegger. The “bad,” and therefore most ominous one, is the philosophic pursuit, notably that of grounding conformity between propositions and given states of affairs. Thinking lacks any external end, then. “The evil and therefore most corrosive danger”—corrosive but not fatal—is thinking itself. What is evil about thinking is its trust that it can find within itself all it takes for its own satisfaction: for example, innate ideas. That is why “it must think against itself,” against the ancient conviction that it provides its own contents, that it possesses its own end in itself. It also lacks any internally given end, then. “The good and therefore wholesome danger is the nighness of the singing poet.”17 A poet, we are to understand, “sings” for no end or purpose. He is of the family of woodcutters and forest rangers, a frequenter of woodpaths.
But how can that family be extended to include thinkers? Does Heidegger not untiringly insist on ‘the issue’, die Sache, for thinking? It seems difficult to understand thinking otherwise than as aiming at the complete possession of that ‘very issue’, its end.
The very issue for thinking is presencing as it differs from systems of presence. Heidegger can attempt to repeal the reign of finality in thinking only because he has first dissolved that reign in the play of the temporal difference. Phusis in the metaphysical sense seeks energeia, entelecheia, as its end. A rose that does not bloom, an adolescent who refuses to become an adult, a house that remains a building site are just so many instances of failure in the pursuit of a natural or a fabricative end. The verb phuesthai, on the other hand—phusis as “ever-rising: in Greek wording, τὸ ἀεὶ φύov”18—designates an emerging into presence without aim, for nothing. Goal-directedness sets Aristotle’s concept of phusis apart from Anaximander’s; it sets ousia apart from parousia, beingness from being, methods of inquiry from paths of thinking. “To understand this, we must learn to distinguish between path and method. In philosophy there are only paths; in the sciences, on the contrary, only methods, that is, procedures.”19 Inasmuch as everything present comes into presence for no purpose, the paths of thinking, too, lead nowhere. They are woodpaths since to ‘think’ is to espouse, to ‘thank’, the goalless showing-forth of phenomena. Such is the essential identity of thinking and presencing: it is their common essence to be ‘without why’.
Lastly, the temporal difference repeals the rule of finality in action. This is a consequence of action’s a priori status in the phenomenology of being as event. If, then, originary, phuein requires a mode of existence so as to become at all thinkable, the metaphor of woodpaths applies to this practical condition more than to anything else. The paths to which existence must commit itself in order to think the event of presencing “end quite suddenly in the untrodden.” With being no longer conceived as substance, our practical pursuits lose their telic bearings. The existence that sets out on such paths is already misjudged when it is asked to produce reasons for its behavior. If it were possible to dismantle the machine of behavior, of goal directed action, of internal motivations and external determinations, if we could think action according to models other than purposive, life would begin to ‘thank’ that non-principial economy into which the technological turning has already introduced us. It would enter that post-modern clearing where each path “runs its separate way, but in the same forest. Often it seems as though one resembles the other. Yet it only seems so.” The metaphysical closure, that is, the end of philosophy or its eschaton, remains a hypothesis unless the technological turning and the phenomenological deconstruction overcome the end of philosophy, its telos: the representation that “every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit . . . aims at some good.” Such is the truly decisive displacement Heidegger traces concerning the ends of philosophy, an a-teleocratic, anarchic displacement.20
The normative concept of goal serves traditionally to regulate and eventually legitimate praxis. Any acceptable behavior is made dependent on the establishment of ends considered to be good or desirable. But aspirations, efficacy, and performance characterize existence only insofar as, prior even to all practical theory, being is fixed, ‘framed’, within the causal schema, a schema in which, as has been shown, final cause rules supreme. Action displays a natural proclivity toward ends solely on the condition of such a calculative pre-understanding of being as calculable. Once that preconception is undone, the extended family of woodcutters, forest rangers, poets, and thinkers comes to include all actors, to the dual exclusion of the knowers and the makers. If there is a maxim to be gathered from this deconstruction of teleocracy, it would be for literally thoughtful action, or against thoughtlessness in action.
One may wonder whether the description of care in Being and Time,21 as well as the emphasis on projection and “that for the sake of which” being-there projects itself,22 is entirely disengaged from the teleocratic framework. Later, that disengagement is explicit, be it only in the way Heidegger makes the principle of ground formulated by Leibniz his own, even as he restricts it. “Something, such as the rose, is not without a ground, and yet it is without a why.”23 Like the metaphor of woodpaths, the “without why” restricts the scope of phenomena to which final causality, the pursuit of goals, is applicable. Once again, the practical negation of goals, on the threshold of a non-principial economy, does not mean the all-out cancellation of any teleological representation, but the restriction of such representations to their native domain, production—here, the ‘natural’ production of vegetal growth. To be sure, from the botanical viewpoint, a blooming rose has an extrinsic end or entelechy, which is attained only when it seeds. But its event of presencing is goalless. The rose flowers for nothing, “it flowers because it flowers.”24
Heidegger inserts his anti-teleocratic strategy more or less surreptitiously into his interpretation of Aristotle, Leibniz, and Angelus Silesius. But it is most forcefully operative in his interpretation of Nietzsche. Heidegger cites the following declaration of faith by Nietzsche, which flatly contradicts the Aristotelian declarations: “ ‘Goallessness as such’ is the principle of our faith.”25 The ‘goal’ as such, Heidegger comments, would signify ‘meaning’ which, in turn, is understood by Nietzsche as ‘value’. Therefore, this is a nihilist declaration of faith intending to affirm, to will, that the world have neither meaning nor value. Then Heidegger continues: “However, we no longer think nihilism in a ‘nihilist’ fashion as a disintegrating dissolution into nihilating nothingness. Valuelessness and goallessness, then, can no longer signify a lack, mere emptiness and absence. Those nihilist characteristics of entities in their totality mean something affirmative, an essential process, namely, the manner in which entities in their totality come into presence. The metaphysical term for this is: eternal recurrence of the same.”26 Heidegger’s ‘metaphysical’ interpretation of the eternal recurrence as well as of the will to power is riddled by passages such as this where the anarchic strategy, in which he sides with the non-metaphysical Nietzsche, becomes suddenly obvious. Goallessness designates “an essential process,” a “manner in which entities in their totality come into presence”—in other words, an economy of presence. Anticipating an economy where no goal as such’, no last meaning and no first value reign, establishing the equality of forces, goals, meanings, values, and thus abolishing them as forces, goals, meanings, values, the eternal recurrence already translates the economic negation of goals into their practical negation. A ‘metaphysics’ of the eternal recurrence? Certainly not. A phenomenology, rather, of the temporal difference between the essential process of presencing and the economic net into which it emerges for a while; and a description of the practical a priori required for following the late modern rearrangement in that net. Viewed from the most principial of all economies, contemporary technology, the practical negation of goals can only appear as “the outbreak of a delirium.”27 And yet, what Angelus Silesius says about the rose—“it flowers because it flowers”—Meister Eckhart had already said about action: “If you were to ask a genuine man who acted from his own ground, ‘Why do you do what you are doing?’ if he were to answer rightly, he would say no more than, ‘I do it because I do it.’ ”28
It may happen unexpectedly that thinking
finds itself called upon to enter the
question, . . . What do you make of the
“The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution
As complex as the problems connected with the phenomenon of responsibility may be (problems concerning its role in legal and moral philosophy, the concept of freedom that determines the word’s semantic scope, the frequent identification of responsibility with imputability, etc.),30 they rest, in one way or another, on the recognition of a reciprocal commitment between two parties. In Latin spondere (from the Greek spondē, ‘libation’ or ‘vow’) means ‘to promise’, ‘to pledge oneself to’, and respondere therefore means ‘to commit oneself in return’. To be responsible is to be ready to give an account of one’s acts and deeds to a tribunal before which—implicitly or explicitly, morally or legally, by nature or by contract—one finds oneself bound or has bound oneself To be responsible is to be accountable. It implies a ‘for’ and a ‘to’: one is always responsible or accountable for actions to a competent authority. This may be a tribunal within man, like conscience, external to him, like institutionalized power or a communication community, or above him, like a deity. He is responsible if he is ready to render accounts and so to legitimate his conduct. Legitimation is the successful answering for one’s acts to such a normative and justificatory agency. As legitimated, our acts ‘come back’ (re-) to us. The legitimating ‘referent’—from re-ferre, to carry back—measures them and therefore necessarily transcends them. We are responsible actors if we take upon ourselves and claim like measurement. This return structure is the ground for imputation. Through it, our acts weigh on our account. Rechenschaft ablegen, to give, make, or lay one’s account for something, to call or bring to account, rendre raison, rationem reddere: in the main Western languages responsibility is linked to the rendering of a reckoning.31 The reckoned return of the acts upon the actor and the normative tribunal or authority meting them back are the two dominant traits that characterize the phenomenon of responsibility.
Such at least is the result of Heidegger’s deconstructing the received concept of responsibility. He abolishes neither of the two traits: neither the rendering of the reckoning, nor the authority before which accounts are to be rendered. But as deconstructed, these two traits find themselves displaced. Once humanistic, once corollaries of the dispositions of ‘moral’ faculties, they turn economic, corollaries of the dispositions of ‘ontological’ presencing. This twofold incidence of the turning strikes a twofold blow at freedom. Firstly, the accounting for occurs in a place other than the subject. The discharge of conduct and the answering for it do not originarily emanate from freedom understood as the faculty of choice. Neither initially nor essentially does to render a reckoning mean to assume the consequences of one’s choices. With the turning, moral freedom, the capacity for practical spontaneity, appears as a derived freedom. Secondly, the measuring can no longer be construed as transcending our acts. Originarily, responsibility as an accounting to cannot mean to go before some authority that limits freedom understood as absence of constraint. As deconstructed, both the rendering of a reckoning and the reference to a mensurating tribunal are thus to be understood in terms of the economies.
Here again, putting to work the temporal difference, Heidegger shows the originary condition of responsibility by recourse to its original source. The guiding representation of counting and accounting then appears as born from the great reversal in Greek thinking that brought about the beginning of metaphysics. The very essence of that reversal consists in a steady reduction of legein to calculation. The reckoning of rights and duties, the computability of rights and wrongs, presupposes the obfuscation of presencing as an event, an obfuscation that manifests itself linguistically in the restriction of legein as gathering to the reasoning that is ‘straight’ (orthos, orektos—in Latin, rectus—‘right’, which Heidegger seems to link to reor, to reckon, count, calculate). The native sense of the Latin word ratio is calculative reason. That word stems in fact from the language of Roman merchants.32 The very essence of reason consists, then, for Heidegger in “stating, holding, justifying,”33 that is, in counting or calculating on something. Being as the ground one can count ‘on’ is the ontological condition for any accounting ‘for’ and ‘to’. The entire epochal history of preseneing “goes together with that destinai mark known as fundament, ratio, calculation, the account rendered.” The calculative stamp originally impressed on presencing gets reinforced along the way. In modern times, reason “demands that an account be rendered of the very possibility of universal calculability.”34 Reason then has to produce a referent that accounts for reckoning as such—a ground to which an account of accountability in general can and must be rendered. At the heart of the metaphysical concept of responsibility lies a call for accountability. The climax, in moral philosophy, of this accountability is undoubtedly what is known as utilitarianism. Karl Marx had already mocked Jeremy Bentham, that Great Accountant.35 If for Heidegger, ethics amounts essentially to an accounting enterprise, this is so on the same score that science is essentially technical and metaphysics, essentially rationalistic. These are but three shapes of one and the same epochē. The rendering of a reckoning as the condition of responsibility is one predominant mode of unconcealment. To propose for scholarly research a theme such as “ ‘physics and responsibility’ . . . is but double-entry accounting.”36
As for the other trait of the metaphysical concept of responsibility, the normative and justificatory tribunal, its deconstruction has been carried out above with the genealogy of the epochal principles.
What then would a non-metaphysical, non-calculative understanding of responsibility be? It must be one in which the debt of accounts and the referent to which it is discharged, are proved to be systematically operative only in those economies in which time has been ‘forgotten’. The withering of the epochal principles would then entail the impossibility of accounting for actions to a referent since no a-temporal ground would be available to count on. Heidegger shows this impossibility by recourse to the same etymologies. If the Latin verb reor has furnished the English ‘reckoning’ and the German rechnen, then all has not been said about ratio once the connection with counting and calculating has been established. The English ‘rightening’ and the German richten or ausrichten signify an act of orienting: “ ‘To take one’s bearings from something’ is what our verb rechnen means.”37 To reckon is to righten. This allows Heidegger to step back from the phenomenon of calculation to that of directionality. Responsible acts, then, are those that follow the direction or grain of a given economy; that adopt the bearings of things in a given era; that thank’ presencing in aligning themselves by the way things enter their world. “But such thanking is no paying-off.”38
In the step back from accounting and calculating to complying with temporal directionality, something quite different is at issue than making “being-up-to-date the measure for the ‘inner truth’ of human action.”39 At issue are the modalities of presencing or freedom in the aletheiological sense, as the originary condition for action or freedom in the moral sense. With that step from the conditioned to the condition, to be responsible no longer means to ‘answer for’ one’s actions before a tribunal but to ‘respond to’—namely, to the aletheiological constellations, the modifiers of preseneing, in which our acts are embedded. Such responsiveness or respondence is not something the phenomenology of being as time can in turn account for. If it were, the temporal difference would again be rendered null and void as the sole measure for thinking and acting. Displaced into the economies, responsibility means response. Response to what? To “the call of the difference” which is “the difference between world and thing.”40 A response to the ever new modality in which the world unfolds things and in which things give configuration to or “bear” (gebärden) the world. “Things bear world. World grants things.” A response to their “intimacy,” to “the between where world and thing differ,” to the event of their mutual constellation. A response to the Ereignis, then, which, as ‘appropriation’, calls upon thinking and acting. The responsorial essence of responsibility removes it from the moral domain and turns it into a phenomenon akin to language. It is a response to “the injunction in which the difference calls world and things,” a response to the event of appropriation which, as articulating itself silently, is “nothing human.” “Such an appropriating occurs inasmuch as the essential unfolding of language, the pure call of silence, uses the speech of mortals.”41 This topological reimplantation entails that speech is always a response to the historical modifications of the event, but it does not entail that responsibility is reduced to a linguistic phenomenon in the narrow sense: appeal and response can only be conjoined in a way of being. The ‘way to language’ designates an on-the-way which is neither the mind’s (it is not an itinerarium mentis) nor the individual’s (it is not a conversio) alone. The event of presencing ‘uses’ men, it situates them in such a way that everything they undertake is but a response to the economy that calls upon them.42
Does this displacement of responsibility from the moral to the economic leave any room for a non-response, for irresponsibility? It should be clear that the displacement does not absorb project into thrownness. If the economic order ‘calls’ for our response, that order is a network of potentials rather than a frame of the actual. In that sense it calls as if from ahead of us, which should dispel any impression that the response is somehow automatic. If this were the case, then indeed no room would be left for irresponsibility. For Heidegger, irresponsibility consists in what Anaximander called adikia, injustice.43 So long as responsibility is construed as the meting out of charges and discharges, irresponsibility amounts to an infraction against one of the various principles of order: law, conscience, custom, power, father, other, God, people, reason, progress, classless society, etc. The entities so represented summon another entity, the actor, to render an account of his actions; not to answer that summons is to be irresponsible. It is to depart from the given principial constellation of concealment and unconcealment. Irresponsibility is always a breach of the mode in which presencing occurs and calls upon us. But that mode can be epochal or non-epochal. At the hypothetical end of metaphysics, irresponsibility therefore does not consist in the same kind of breach as it does under the sway of epochal principles.
That change in the nature of irresponsibility follows from the very hypothesis that there remains no referential order of presence to transgress. In the age of closure, to be irresponsible is to contravene the network of systemic presencing. And what is it that so contravenes by definition the multiple event of phuesthai, of showing-forth? It is any entity and any act that “becomes set on fixing itself in its stay,” that seeks “pure persistence in duration,” that “holds fast to the assertion of its stay.”44 That description fits anything that closely or remotely resembles an epochal principle. The hubris of staying, of permanent presence, arises only under and through the rule of those principles. They are what is irresponsible essentially. With Heidegger’s step back to another time, a time other than duration, what is irresponsible for man is any practical a priori that calls for persistence against flux and thereby contributes to the survival of the principial economy.
The break that appears with the (possible) end of metaphysics destabilizes both that for which and that to which one can be held accountable. It dissolves the former because it subverts the latter. With the turn, responsibility therefore undergoes a displacement not only toward the economies but also toward anarchy. This radical shift lifts the phenomenon of responsibility out of the regency of ultimate representations and situates it in another space, the in-between of presence and presencing. By the same stroke, it situates existence within its originary locus where it lives by the sole event of mutual appropriation among the things that make up a historical world. The shift of responsibility toward economic an-archy is the practical condition for thinking the difference between world and thing as temporal. In an economy deprived of any epochal principle, responsorial existence—responsible action—will be a response to the ever new modes in which things unite in a world and differ from it. One answers the ‘call of the difference’ by inscribing one’s acts within the play of identity and difference between world and thing.45 Whatever the difficulties raised by Heidegger’s deconstruction of responsibility, one will always be able to respond only through praxis to the question, What do you make of the difference?
In busy-ness the project of the object-region
is primordially built into entities.
“The Age of the World Picture”46
The two anarchic displacements that I have traced, the practical negation of goals and the transmutation of responsibility, impair the smooth functioning of what Heidegger calls “busy-ness” (der Betrieb). How, one must wonder, could a society function if Meister Eckhart’s ‘life without why’, Nietzsche’s ‘eternal return of the same’, and Heidegger’s ‘call of the difference’ were allowed to subvert the project of objectivation? The word “busy-ness” is meant to indicate that this project, while legitimate in its own region (and legitimated by the Existential Analytic), is today extended to the totality of entities. Technology is the factor that renders it so primordial. The action Heidegger urges as the practical condition for responding and corresponding to today’s constellation of the difference entails a certain dis-articulation of that project which has made and still makes the technocratic universe. If the ‘atomic’ economy is effectively—actually and efficaciously—bi-frontal, if it is a threshold economy, its mere situation calls into question the pertinence of the Aristotelian inquiry into the function of man. By its historical locus alone, technology simultaneously pushes the referential features of the economies to their extreme and hampers them, corrupting the interest in the ordered functioning of communities, an interest that is perhaps the most evenly distributed commodity in the world. Located on the boundary of possible closure, technology as the last ‘stamp’ both produces and transgresses “uncanny” functioning.47
The concept of Betrieb, busy-ness, in Heidegger designates first of all the decontextualization of artworks: even “if we visit the temple in Paestum at its site and the Bamberg cathedral on its square, the world of these works, henceforth objectively present, has perished.” To say that their world no longer is, and that in the contemporary era they are rendered objectively present, is to say the same thing twice. Object is opposed to work. “The object-being of the works . . . is not their work-being. “What is the criterion for that disjunction? A work institutes a world that is its own, while an object, constituted by the mathematical project—the project of generalized calculability and accountability—lacks a world of its own. A work rests in its world, but an object results from an entirely different project: the subject’s scheme of placing everything at its own disposal. A work that becomes an object is thereby torn out of its context, and that decontextualization is irreparable. “World-withdrawal and world-decay can never be undone.” The work has changed into one item among others in the isomorphic universe of calculation. ‘Busy-ness’ is the consequence of the project of objectification, and bustle (der Umtrieb), the most glaring symptom of such transformation into busy-ness. Heidegger thus places such phenomena as the art market and the art industry within the scheme of universal mathēsis: “The whole art industry, even if carried to its zenith and busying itself entirely for the sake of the works themselves, reaches only the object-being of the works.”48 Transformation into busy-ness extends, however, beyond the domain of artworks. It affects everything present in the contemporary economy. This is the critical charge pressed by Heidegger here. It can be spelled out by tracing the original and the originary origins of busy-ness.
Originally, busy-ness is that modern scheme of transformation through which ‘things’ lose their ‘world’ by becoming ‘objects’. This scheme is imposing itself today on all entities as such, without exception. The logic of technology consists in building object-being into them. The logic of mathēsis and the (transcendental subjectivist) logic of object constitution have prevailed beyond Descartes’ and Kant’s fondest dreams, as the way of being ‘objectively present’ or ‘given for handling’ (vorhanden) gets built into everything, including the subject. This is a logic of implacable violence. “In busy-ness the project of the object-region gets primordially built into entities.” ‘Region’ does not refer to regional ontology, which is an a-historical phenomenology. If the object-region arises from the modern subject asserting itself, ‘region’ is a term of a historical ontology, of the history of being. What is primordial for modernity is that only the empirically verifiable is present. Furthermore, if modernity originates with (although not from) experimental science, then the endless et cetera of hypotheses and their verification through experiment, yielding new hypotheses, is the original busy-ness. Under this concept, then, Heidegger exhibits one of the basic traits of science, namely, that the results of previous research prescribe the ways and means to be adhered to in new research. “This need to adapt itself to its own results as the ways and means of advancing its procedure is the essence of busy-ness as a feature of research.” Busy-ness designates the process through which experimental sciences perpetuate themselves by feeding on their own products. But from the start the experimental sciences have been in the service of practical mastery over nature, not vice versa. Technology, the contemporary figure of that mastery, a figure “whose essence is identical with the essence of modern metaphysics,”49 equally progresses and even maintains itself only on the condition of eating its own children, like Kronos. The “priority of procedure over entities (Nature and History)” means “science as research has, in itself, the character of busy-ness.”50 In the bustle of scientific research the omnivorous essence of technology shows forth, which in turn finally reveals the violence inherent in the fundamental position of metaphysics’ boundary epoch.
Heidegger contests busy-ness as the ultimate and totalitarian shape of objectivation simply by asking what it is originarily, what its essence is. As with Socrates, raising the question of essence already means calling into question and protesting (except that the Athenian Senate perceived the danger in such essential questioning better than the German Chancelleries following 1935). Unlike Socrates, however, Heidegger raises the question of essence in historical terms. Essence is always a mode of unconcealment. That is why it is reached, not by an act of intuition, but by deconstructing the economies that it structures. Betrieb comes from treiben, to drive. I have said that this translates the cogito, as co-agitatio. But that original drive toward mastery has its originary condition, the ‘drift’ (die Trift) in presencing, i.e., the way being is time for modernity. A certain directionality of time, toward solid presence, is the essence of busy-ness. To so deconstruct our fundamental position and to retrieve the truth of its temporal essence is neither to condemn nor to countenance it. Busy-ness is no more a matter of condemnation for Heidegger than technology in general. Neither the modern drift in presencing nor the sequence of economies it has produced, leading up to the atomic age, harbor anything fatal: “I do not see the situation of man in the world of global technology as an inextricable and inescapable fate.”51 But if the essential questioning of busy-ness is—like ‘thinking’ in general—a doing, it definitely counteracts it by a practice impossible to co-opt.
To begin with, the thinking proper to busy-ness, a thinking that poses and disposes, has its corollary practice: imposing the project of objectivation on entities in their totality. ‘The other thinking’, the one that questions and calls into question, also has its corollary practice. It is non-attachment, Abgeschiedenheit. That attitude alone, Heidegger argues, opens us to a new ply in the history of economies by making us comply with it. He follows Georg Trakl in waiting for “a breed, not yet borne to term, whose stamp marks the future generation. The gathering power of non-attachment holds the unborn [stamp] beyond the deceased, and saves it for the coming rebirth of mankind out of the dawn.”52 This is a somewhat contorted way of linking, beyond deconstruction, the arrival of an age that bears the mark of the originary (presencing freed from the technological cathexis) to a return to the original dawn (ancient Greece). It is also a way of linking, beyond the epochs, the new stamp (economy, fundamental position) to a doing (the practical a priori). It is a way, in other words, of suggesting a transgression. The protest that hastens it does not act strategically, but rather through an apprenticeship in non-attachment. This erodes a boundary drawn since Parmenides. Heidegger describes that boundary as a certain conception of the “it is”: its conception as ontological difference.53 To take leave, Abschied nehmen, is what those detached always do. They are abgeschieden, departed. Non-attachment is the practical protest that may bear to term a breed detached from the ontological difference. Abgeschiedenheit, then, is the one praxis capable of undoing the principles that have run the age of ontological difference. The way of calling busy-ness and its essence into question is to be unattached to the epochal principles. Non-attachment contests the global technological enterprise just as ‘the other thinking’ contests the project of total objectivation. Both denature the epoch of calculation and by the same stroke denaturalize those who inhabit that epoch.
Several commentators have drawn attention to the protest against objectivation and calculative thinking as one of the rare “political elements” in Heidegger.54 Still, the conditions on which such protest can be staged make it peculiar. Heidegger does not attempt to redress alienation. He does not come to the rescue of total man. If he indicts—both declares publicly or denounces (in Latin, indicere) and gives evidence against (indicare)—the conditions for indictment are provided by our economy of presence. Indeed, no polemic can be drawn from the temporal difference unless this difference first declares itself publicly in the evidence of an epochal break. The original locus of the polemics Heidegger engages, the locus of the original polemos, is the contemporary economy of presence. It is the confrontation of the principial constellation with the anarchic. Meditative thinking does not combat calculative thinking—nor non-attachment, busy-ness—in the way Don Quixote tilts at windmills. To raise the question of presencing and of the way a given constellation of presence differs from it is not to ‘attack’ the project of objectivation or its final shape, technology. Heidegger does not attack, but he asks where the type of deployment that he calls busy-ness comes from. This is, by the way, why there is not the slightest trace of an ideology in his writings, which have therefore resisted and confounded all partisan readings. His contestation puts into question, but does not take a position. ‘Thinking’ is not a position that one occupies like a fort and from which one launches out against the sciences and techniques. That ‘the sciences do not think’ does not amount to opposing thought to science as the negation to a position. Thought and science are not contraries within one genus. If the call to thinking in Heidegger meant, as has often been claimed, an escape from the technological age and a return to the Greek ‘dawn’, then the call would be ideological. But: “Never have I spoken against technology, nor against the so-called demonic in technology. Rather, I try to understand the essence of technology.”55 It is well known which ideology, at least in Europe, expresses itself today—and certainly not fortuitously—through the slogan of a return to Greece.56 Heidegger, on the other hand, observes that we lack all models. “The renunciation of historically fabricated models—ages, styles, tendencies, situations, ideas—is the sign of the extreme distress we and those to come have to endure.” Even if we wished, “that initial thinking cannot be ‘renewed’, nor even erected as a ‘model’.”57 Lines such as these should put an end, once and for all, to the conservative readings of Heidegger which hold that for him thinking is a matter of preserving the “ever so few authentic things” bequethed by our ancestors58 from being levelled by busy-ness. Inquiring into the essence of technology is neither a conservative nor a progressive undertaking. It is a search for the categories according to which presence has spelled itself out since the time of those figures known as the Presocratic philosophers. A quest for historical categories is hardly an ideological return to the Greeks.
Non-attachment to busy-ness is not an option placed before our free will. Heidegger distorts the tradition from which he takes the word Abgeschie-denheit by treating it as designating an economic possibility. As such, it points to a practical potential in the current era, the power “to bring an issue where it belongs and henceforth to leave it there.”59 Which issue? The one that, at the moment of economic transgression, most amply provides food for thought, das Bedenklichste, and is most worthy of question, das Fragwürdigste. Anything, then, insofar as it appears to the gaze of the anticipatory incidences of the transitional categories: any ‘thing’ in its relation to its ‘world’. It remains for us to prepare the thinking capable of such non-attachment. If that word indeed designates a potential to be set free—the relation to things through which they are “left” to their world—then non-attachment amounts as clearly to a doing as does thinking. Essential thinking and unattached acting are inseverable as the practical reply to the economic ply in which the principles wither. That practice and that economy together form the condition for the transition toward ontological anarchy, pliant being.
In this way protest gets distorted, too. Heidegger does not directly protest against technology and the atomic age, but he protests directly the economy that produced them: he testifies to it. Quite as Nietzsche protested the innocence of becoming, Heidegger protests the possibility for thinking to become essential and for acting to become non-attached. ‘Protestation’ thereby recovers its primary sense, which is to declare, to attest to a truth. The way to challenge busy-ness is to protest non-attachment. The latter, in turn, by its very possibility attests to an economy without principle, to essentially anarchic presencing.
After the practical negation of goals and the transmutation of responsibility, non-attachment provides a clue for verifying which path is aberrant and which is viable in the contemporary bi-frontal order. The point of impact of Heideggerian dissent is situated neither behind nor ahead of us, it is a dissent out of neither nostalgia nor utopia. Its impact is on today’s course as affected by a possible, thoroughly contingent declination. Even preparatory thinking—preparatory for the other thinking’, which Heidegger hopes will become “efficacious” after all, perhaps 300 years from now60—first constitutes a challenge to the current hold of busy-ness. Non-attachment is necessary so that things may enter a mode of interdependence unattached to principles. Contingent pliancy in presencing must be affirmed as contingent for an entirely contingent aletheiological constellation to arise. Stated in Trakl’s words: the hold of busy-ness is to be unloosened through non-attachment for a breed severed from ultimate grounds to be borne to term.
By ‘destiny’ one usually understands what has
been determined and imposed by fate: a sad,
an inauspicious, a beneficial destiny. This
sense is derivative. Indeed, originarily to ‘des-
tine’ means to prepare, order, bring
everything where it belongs.
Der Satz vom Grund61
These lines describe the transmutation to which Heidegger subjects the notion of destiny. Commonly humanist or ‘existentialist’, it turns economic and topological.
To fashion one’s destiny or acquiesce to it, to assume and carry it out or to meet it: such human doing is not the horizon in which these lines inscribe Geschick. Once the modalities of presencing have been recognized as the very issue of phenomenology, destiny can no longer designate an individual’s or a collectivity’s appointed lot and its reception. It designates, rather, the way the modalities address us, as if they were emitted. To be ‘destined’ or bound for a particular place is to have committed oneself to it. To commit, emit, transmit all imply a sending, schicken. Geschick has therefore been translated as “mittence.”62 At stake are the ceaseless arrangements and rearrangements in phenomenal interconnectedness that “bring everything where it belongs.” To speak of destiny is, then, to speak of places and of placing.
In this transmutation two consequences must be seen which make it clear that humanity’s lot is not what holds Heidegger’s closest attention. The first is nothing new: destiny so understood—no longer as man’s vocation, but as each thing’s allocation to its locus, as its situation in its site—only instantiates the methodic anti-humanism that characterizes this phenomenology in its entirety. The second consequence is more incisive. It points to one result of the turning toward the anarchic economy. The arrangement of phenomena committed or ‘sent’ to us with that turn, situates us differently. The specific mittence of the moment of metaphysical closure enacts a change of place, a displacement. The end of metaphysics is a concrete possibility as the modalities of presencing—destiny—begin to place us otherwise and elsewhere. On that threshold Heidegger’s generally anti-humanist notion of destiny becomes specified as anti-principial.
The economic tenor of situation only appears in the writings subsequent to Being and Time. In Being and Time Heidegger wrote: “By ‘destiny’ (Geschick), we understand the coming-to-pass (Geschehen) of being-there in being-with-others.” He thus understood destiny as a collective process. Futhermore, it was understood as exhibiting the sense of being, its three-fold ecstatic directionality: destiny is grounded in “the anticipatory act of translating oneself into the ‘there’ of the moment.”63 We are bearers of destiny to the extent that future, past and present are united, not in individual Dasein, but in “the coming-to-pass of the community, the people.” Destiny engages being-there ecstatically, “in and with its ‘generation’.”64 It ties us to our heritage and becomes explicitly our own when we repeat, or retrieve, that heritage for the sake of new possibilities ahead of us. In Being and Time destiny designates man’s lot, the allotment that befalls him due to his historical and social constitution. It is man’s lot to have to suffer his past, his link to ancestors and contemporaries, and to assume the tradition into which he is born even as he fashions his future.
With his discovery of the epochal essence of situation, Heidegger’s understanding of destiny shifts. That discovery—namely, that presencing itself has a history and concretely has had the history of metaphysics—makes it necessary for him to give up whatever words may evoke the philosophy of meaning with its attendant philosophy of the ‘existent’ for whom his lot has or does not have meaning. The move away from the search for a meaningful destiny is a move toward “the truth, the alētheia, of being.” Truth so understood “is historical in its essence, not because to be human is to run through the temporal flow, but because mankind remains positioned (sent) in metaphysics, which alone is capable of grounding an epoch.” The new understanding of destiny, after the turn, results from the fundamental positions whose genealogy Heidegger then traces. For us Westerners, to have a destiny means to be placed in a history of forgetful-ness, under “the destiny of the default of being in its truth.”65 Paradoxically, the dehumanization of destiny in the later Heidegger is thus coupled with a new emphasis on history. But man is not the agent of that history. If in this second period Heidegger displays some preoccupation with the future which, given the accumulated heritage of concealment, will be ours, he can hardly counsel more than to wait and see: “Each time, being lets powers arise for a while, but it also lets them sink with their impotencies into the inessential.”66 There is nothing mythical in this way of speaking about being since it is not itself treated as some superpower. It does not ‘make’ the powers that be. No one nor anything—neither man nor being—has power over history. The ‘destiny of being’ re-issues neither God’s Providence nor capital’s ‘invisible hand’. It is the most ordinary phenomenon known to everyone who says ‘things are no longer as before’, this is going to change’, ‘the time is not right’, etc. Destiny is the ever moving order of presencing-absencing, the aletheiological constellation as it situates and re-situates everything in time.
What the later Heidegger calls destiny can best be described in terms of place or site. Tracing “the destiny of the default of being,” he discovers the possibility of another destiny. The technological constellation may assign us to a site that is radically new, although at first imperceptibly so. That destinal break cannot be described in categories such as ‘unconcealment’, which address only the recapitulatory incidence of the transition. Having outlined alētheia s history, Heidegger can draft a topology. The topoi of being are of two kinds: ruled by principles and ruled only by the event of presencing. The new site would differ from all received positions as nomadic differs from sedentary life. To speak of the end of epochal history and of the entry into the locus called event is strictly to speak about the same matter twice—of the boundary where one economy expires and another sets in, where an entire culture finds itself displaced and where “another destiny of being is released,”67 “a different destiny, yet veiled.”68 With that break in its destiny, Western culture takes the shape of a heritage bequeathed without directions for use. “Our heritage is preceded by no testament” (René Char).69 The displacement of culture felt by so many of Heidegger’s contemporaries has perhaps been expressed best by Nietzsche’s phrase ‘God is dead’. For the topology, ‘God’ stands for all supreme ontic principles in metaphysics, for all archie topoi. Since Heidegger extends the impact of this phrase of Nietzsche’s to the whole of epochal economies, the new, anarchic, topos has been in the making since the Greeks: “This phrase of Nietzsche’s names the destiny of two millennia of Western history.”70
The destiny of metaphysics is, throughout, the destiny in which principles wither away, and not episodically but essentially. That destiny of withering comes to completion with technology, “the last epoch of metaphysics.”71 But does this hypothesis of a new topos then not smack of reconciling us with what has been estranged, of humanity restored in its autonomy, liberated from the representations of the first entities under which it has been humiliated? Does Heidegger not re-issue Feuerbach’s critique of religion and urge man to recapture the goods alienated for too long in heaven? Is the displacement beyond epochal destiny not a highly interesting thought, interesting man above all? Does Heidegger’s thinking, then, not exhibit the utmost concern about a better future for mankind? And does he not go as far as to compare the overcoming of metaphysics to “what happens when one gets over grief or pain”?72 Do not texts that proclaim a new era—and Heidegger’s role in preluding it—abound? But what is the status of those texts? When he hints at a possible mutation in destiny, does Heidegger speak, like Nietzsche, in the capacity of a physician of culture? Is the future for him, as it was for Nietzsche, a curative, medicinal art?73 Few misreadings of Heidegger would be more unsound. The diagnostic art of highlighting the contours of a closure has nothing to do with the therapeutic art of stemming a malady in order to recover from it. “All mere chasing after the future so as to compute its picture by extending what is present, although half-thought, into what is to come, although now veiled, itself still moves within the attitude of technological, calculating representation.”74 To want to close metaphysics in order to depart from it—to want to deconstruct it in order to construct the future—would amount to implanting oneself more firmly than ever in the attitude that counts and discounts, that takes into account rather than into custody. The displacement “cannot be fabricated and even less forced.”75 The constructions of History entirely miss both the practical a priori required for anarchic displacement and its destinal nature, which is impossible to reckon up.
A certain disinterest in mankind s future is evident not only in this conception of place, but also in the conception of time required for understanding today’s context as potentially anarchic. An anarchic economy would be one in which thinking and acting espouse the fluctuations in the modalities of presencing. It would be an economy in which the only standard for everything doable is the event of mutual appropriation among entities. It follows that the temporality of that event is no longer to be understood—can no longer be understood—from man’s viewpoint. As a place, Ereignis is as irreducible to epochal stamps (Heidegger’s second period) as it is to man’s projected world (first period). As time, it is as irreducible to aletheiological history (second period) as it is to ecstatic temporality (first period). If ‘destiny’ is to designate no more than the epochal determination by retrospective categories—if, in other words, destiny is eschatological76—then the event itself has neither history nor destiny. It is “a-historical (ungeschichtlich), or better, without destiny (geschicklos)”77 Not that the event is atemporal: its temporality is the coming-about of any constellation of thing and world. In such coming-about the preeminence of the future that characterizes ecstatic time as well as aletheiological-historical time is preserved (event as advent). But it is obvious that this originary coming-about of any relation between thing and world differs from the original coming-about of an age just as the ‘soundless’ play ‘without consequences’ differs from any inaugural founding deed. These are but two ways of stating the temporal difference between the event as condition and all economies as the conditioned. When Heidegger envisages an ‘entry into the event’, i.e., a post-modern economy whose only time structure is the originary, he trusts that the event could become our sole temporal condition, one without principial overdeterminations. The crisis he tries to think is not, then, a founding one. Today’s destinal break is rather a disseminating crisis. In this sense, the temporality of the event puts an end to the effort to know and decide what the principles of the forthcoming human world on earth should be.
From the locus of the one to that of the many, the displacement in economy can only occur in a ‘leap’. No progression, no evolution, links one destiny to the other. Summer does not ‘become’ autumn. Suddenly it is autumn, the eighties, old age. Suddenly there is another way of thinking (“From the moment the question ‘What is metaphysics?’ is asked, the interrogation proceeds already from another question domain”78). Suddenly the anarchic economy is ours. “The turning of the danger occurs and appropriates [us] suddenly. Die Kehre der Gefahr ereignet sich jäh”79 Clearly the leap which Heidegger says separates thinking, Denken, from the understanding, Verstand,80 refers to mental activities only secondarily. Primarily, that leap comes to pass as a break between economies of presence. Such disjunctive ruptures are in no way spectacular. They may go unnoticed for a long time. They are nevertheless sudden inflexions in the fundamental disposition of presence. To become thinkable, they demand of us an equally decisive leap. Western history appears as a closed destiny from the moment thinking risks placing itself resolutely where it is already situated, namely, outside the principles whose downfall technology consummates. “What is called ‘destiny of being’ characterizes the history of Western thinking so far, inasmuch as we look back upon and into that history from out of the leap.”81 A closed destiny makes for a closed thinking. In order to risk oneself beyond that enclosure, courage is not enough. Two conditions must be fulfilled, each of which, from its own angle of transgression, has priority over the other: priority of the economic break over the leap in thinking, but also a priority of the leap in thinking over the economic break. The turn toward an essentially new mode of presencing—“the reversal in our fundamental position in relation to being”—is the economic a priori for entering the topos or place of a new thinking: for entering the “essentially other realm of essential thinking.”82 But conversely, that other thinking is the practical a priori for bearing to term the other fundamental position already in place around us and in us. The leap freezes the understanding so as to unfreeze thinking.83 The issue for the understanding is whatever is first in an order of foundation; the issue for thinking is being. Therefore the leap “sets out from the principle of reason as a proposition about entities over to the utterance of being qua being.”84
It is first of all the modality of presencing that frees itself from epochal principles. Only then can thinking and uttering be freed from the proposition ‘nothing is without reason’. Conversely, however, if we are already situated, be it inceptively, in another destiny, thinking and acting must first become ‘without reason’ so that our world may be freed from principial vestiges and idols and so that we may pass from the era of Janus to that of Proteus.
At the end of the “slumber of being,”85 the epechein—that is, the destiny where presencing is granted only while also denied—can draw to its close. The new destiny renders possible and demands another way of thinking and uttering. It also renders possible and demands another way of acting. If Heidegger barely develops that ‘other practice’ which is to agree with ‘the other thinking’ and ‘the other destiny’, it is because the three displacements are truly inseverable. That much at least he repeats unequivocally. The practice that would agree with the other thinking and the other destiny is action in compliance with the ever moving constellations of presencing, thus introducing a great fluidity into the public domain. But under the anarchy principle, as yet only on the threshold of closure, thinking remains merely preparatory and the other destiny, a potential. Similarly, preparatory acting must be distinguished from the ‘other’ acting. The only action capable of preparing an economy without principles is that which contests their vestiges in today’s world and confines them to their site: as remnants of a closed destiny. In the final state of epochal destiny, the state that is ours, nothing can resuscitate those residua, “neither some patchwork of past fundamental metaphysical positions nor some flight into a reheated christianism.”86 More precisely, then, what would ‘the other acting’ be? That is to ask what the absence of systemic violence would be.
The ordinary concept of ‘thing’ . . . captures
the thing but does not seize it as it unfolds its
essence. It assaults it. Can such an assault
perhaps be avoided, and how? This would
probably succeed only if we grant the thing
an open field, as it were, so that it may show
its thing-like character immediately. Any
conception and enunciation of the thing,
which tend to place themselves between the
thing and us, must first be removed.
“The Origin of the Work of Art”87
These lines suggest a few traits of ‘the other acting’, which is to be one with ‘the other thinking’ and ‘the other destiny’. They allow one to say what it is not, but also what it is. The other action is not “capture,” “assault.” It is “granting the thing an open field.” Hence, the practical task for our age: to remove everything that tends to place itself in front of the emergence of things into their world.
In the philosophical tradition, the concept of ‘thing’ is coextensive with that of ‘entity’: for the scholastics, res is one of the five transcendental perfections convertible with being.88 Heidegger rejoins that such an “ordinary” way of thinking, “captures the thing but does not seize it as it unfolds its essence.” Why? Because of the conceptual nature itself of that way of thinking. Begriff, ‘concept’, derives from greifen, capere, to ‘grasp’. To conceive is to catch. By vocation and design, conceptual language places itself in a position of attack. This aggressive essence of our language, both philosophical and ordinary, is the result of complex references of condition to conditioned: our “relation to speech for more than twenty centuries has been determined by ‘grammar’; grammar, in its turn, is based in what is usually called ‘logic’; logic, finally, is only one—but not the—interpretation of thinking and saying, namely the interpretation of the essence of thinking proper to metaphysics.”89 These relations of gradual priority among speech, grammar, logic and metaphysics explain the ancient trust in the convergence between modes of predicating and modes of being: between the subject-predicate relation and the substance-accident relation. The ‘ordinarily’ held convergence between language and being is an imposition, a mere corollary to the position of man at the center of the knowable. Such ‘bending together’ (con-vergere) thus turns out to be the violent act par excellence from which Western civilization was born. It is the unmistakable stamp of the metaphysical economy. The imposition of grammatical forms upon what Heidegger calls ‘entities in their totality’ is blatant in Aristotle, who investigates the many ways in which being is said, and from this learns the many ways in which entities relate to substance. Again in Kant, the categories are deduced from the structures of judgment without any justification or even a recognition of such a subsumption of being—if we admit with Heidegger that the Kantian categories are “ontological predicates”90—under grammar. “To seize speech, if only externally, in its essence of speech, we know as yet no other route than that of grammar.” It is not difficult to see where the attitude that forces entities into convergence with words leads: “Words have become instruments for hunting down and hitting, namely in the ‘procedure’ and the ‘labor’ of representing everything [as surely as] precision-firing. The machine-gun, the camera, the ‘word’, the poster—all have this same fundamental function of putting objects in retainment.”91 The violence of the concept, devised by the classical Greeks, is reinforced in a decisive way with Descartes. Since the beginning of modernity, an entity is “what is held at bay over against, what is ob-stant as an object.” An entity is gestellt, just as game is ‘held at bay’ by a hunter. “Representation drives everything together into the unity of what so stands against [the subject]. Representation is coagitatio.”92 The hunting metaphors are most pertinent to the violence of the modern cogito by which objects are re-presented, i.e., forced into constant presence to the subject. As an act of conceiving (begreifen), representation already amounts to an act of attacking (angreifen).
Here again technology reveals a development that becomes evident only to a retrospective reading. Technology attests that in its beginning and its essence violence is actually more than a matter of concept, of theory. The apparently inescapable hold of technology, leaving no possible refuge, shows itself to be the delayed and perhaps terminal outcome of decisions and directions taken since classical Greece. Even if, from that beginning onward, it has been logic, the Greek heritage par excellence, that has made thinking a captor, these decisions have been inseverably both ‘theoretical’ and ‘practical’ and therefore neither one nor the other. Assault as a mode of presencing is the offspring of logic, itself an offshoot of metaphysics93—which in turn was born from decisions on the level of the ‘fundamental positions’, that is, of the constellations of being. Reinforced at each subsequent step, those ground-laying decisions have led to universalized violence more destructive than war: “We do not even need an atomic bomb; man’s uprootedness is already there. . . . This uprootedness is the end unless thinking and poetry attain once again to a nonviolent power.”94 Faced with that threat of the end, long in preparation, Heidegger therefore asks: “Can such an assault perhaps be avoided, and how?”
It is obvious that Heidegger does not oppose a counter-violence or at least not a violence of the same kind to institutionalized violence. He does not call for some counterattack. He does not seek confrontation and expects nothing from it. Since the modern subject-object split, confrontation has been everywhere, making violence the very heart of our fundamental historical position. Mounting yet another front could only solidify the universalized assault. Nor does Heidegger urge abandoning the public domain. His project of tracing the economies of presence abolishes, as we have seen, the oppositions between public and private, outside and inside, active and contemplative.
Heidegger is asking whether the ‘assault’ can perhaps be avoided. It is as ambiguous as technology. The violence of our potentially terminal position results from global control as it both closes metaphysics upon itself and renders the turning possible. Not that violence prompts its own negation. There is nothing dialectical at stake in the hypothesis of closure, only a double-faced fundamental position. The ‘assault’ simultaneously constitutes us natives and neighbors of the metaphysical terrain. In mounting ever new tactics in the offensive game, it also engages another possible play, that of the truth of presencing. “If the true as the only destiny is to come truly toward us and our descendants, everything must remain provisional, widely expectant, cautious: we could not yet calculate when and where and in what shape that event will occur.”95 How is an economy to be anticipated in which truth could be truly encountered? Heidegger responds clearly: Everything that “tends to place itself between the thing and us must first be removed.”
But what can such a removal mean if it is to hamstring the assault? How could the specific mode of interdependence between words, things, and actions, which was born from logic and today dominates us through the most enslaving epochal principle our history has known, be at all avoided? To call for a removal can hardly mean to recommend some program calculated to neutralize the offensive of the will: such calculus would only enforce the offensive. To engage in the possible other play and to begin removing the remnants of the ultimate representations that are already losing their credibility, a space for action, for a certain praxis, is to be preserved from the onslaught and can be so preserved. For Heidegger, a single attitude is within our reach that allows us to prepare for crossing the closure and withdrawing public exchanges from the will’s offensive: “Releasement does not belong to the domain of the will.”96 Releasement is the preparatory play that allows the true to come truly toward us and our descendants as the only destiny. It literally preludes the transgression. The violence Heidegger espouses before the institutionalized assault is the non-violence of thinking. Indeed, what is thinking’s “nonviolent power”? It is to do what presencing does: to let be. Heidegger opposes lassen, “letting,” to überfallen, “assailing,”97 as he opposes the “entry into the event” to the obstacles that “place themselves between the thing and us.” Releasement is neither a benign attitude nor a spiritual comfort. It is the sole viable path that may lead from action as mapped by calculative reason to a praxis not conceivable in terms of calculative reason, neither as its negation nor as its dupe. Letting-be is the only possible way out from under the principles and into the event because (1) it displaces the conflict, (2) it is essentially a-teleocratic, and (3) it prepares an anarchic economy. The first of these points locates releasement on the level of the originary; the second identifies it as the practical a priori; and the third shows it to be the economic alterant needed for distorting and getting over (both senses of verwinden) metaphysics. For these three reasons—which must be examined individually—Heidegger can continue, in the lines cited as the epigraph above: “Can such an assault perhaps be avoided, and how? This would probably succeed only if we grant the thing an open field.”
1. To grant the thing an open field first of all amounts to displacing the conflict incurred at the end of a long history. Heidegger opposes no dialectical Great Refusal to violence. Dialectic is but “the strongest power of logic to this day,” and to philosophize against technology would amount to “a mere re-action against it, that is, to the same thing.”98 Heidegger does not negate technology; rather, he seeks to step back toward the conditions that render it possible as organized violence. This step back toward essence, toward the modes of interconnectedness between words, things, and actions, displaces the conflict; for instead of asking how to ‘face’ systemic violence, Heidegger inquires about presencing. The open field toward which his critique steps back is the field of phenomenal interdependence of which technology is but one possible modality. Originary—transcendental—openness is both wider and more elusive than one or another historical constellation to which it gives an original shape. The call to grant the thing an open field, a world, then displaces the question of systemic violence from the epochal disposition that rules our age to the event (‘world and thing’ understood as interplay). Raised as such a call and from such a site, the question goes more surely to the heart of technology than the search for alternatives to standardization and mechanization ever could. The very thrust of Heidegger’s critique of violence is missed when it is recruited into the ecologist cause or some other remedial program. What is missed when Heidegger’s recollection of being is turned into a parody of dialectics, is the change of level on which he discusses technology: not its pros and cons, nor his or our or anyone’s or consciousness’s ‘for’ and ‘against’, affirmation and negation, but technology’s native site. Heidegger steps back to ‘nature’ understood as nasci, as the occurrence of springing from the interplay of world and thing from which springs any epochal disposition. Following this displacement of the question concerning technology, what is it that appears as “granting the thing an open field”? That granting, he adds, “happens all the time.” It is the event of mutual appropriation between world and thing which always already lets phenomena be encountered (begegnenlassen) and so grants them their open field. It follows that the practical a priori capable of subverting systemic violence will consist in doing what the phenomenological a priori does, “abandon (überlassen) ourselves to the unobstructed presencing of the thing.”99 The practical condition for raising the question concerning technology and the violence inherent in it can only consist in letting things enter their world in constellations essentially rebellious to ordering. The praxis that leaves things an open field can only be a polymorphous doing, ‘homologous’ to polymorphous presencing. Heidegger thus raises the question of violence not in terms of violence and counterviolence as Marx did, for example (“material violence can only be overthrown by material violence”100). Neither does he raise it, as Merleau-Ponty did, in humanist terms (is “violence capable of creating human relationships between men?”101). Heidegger asks, What constellation of presencing-absencing is capable of making technology an essentially violent historical fundamental position? He raises it in economic terms. Releasement as a possible praxis springs from that step back toward the temporal difference between presencing and one of its economies.
2. To grant the thing an open field means furthermore to free thinking from representations of an end. If technology is the triumph of telic rationality and if thinking that triumph requires a step back to its conditions, then thinking has no identifiable goal. It does not enter the telic network, either to enforce or negate it. The constitution, retention, possession and mastery of objects is not its task. In its essence and its activity it remains free from teleocratic dominion. Its essence is far too poor, and the task it accomplishes far too modest, to weigh on technology since to think is to follow things as they emerge into their world. It is to follow the emerging from absence into presence, i.e., presencing. Its poverty is nevertheless instructive. It instructs us about an origin without a telos; an origin that is always other and always new; on which one cannot count and which thereby defies the technico-scientific complex born from telic rationality. Heidegger’s counsel to grant the thing an open field, then, also yields an imperative. Things that enter their world are other than products that enter a planning scheme. Products have a use. That operational purpose constitutes their very being. To speak of things instead of objects given for handling or subsistent as stock is to disengage entities from the frame of finality. How can such disengagement or dis-enframing be carried out? With the imperative contained in this question: “Are we in our existence historically at the origin?”102 To be at the origin would be to follow in thinking and acting the phenomena’s oriri, their emergence ‘without why’. Concerning the “open field” into which things emerge Heidegger cites Goethe: “Seek nothing behind the phenomena: they themselves are the lesson.”103 Behind the phenomena would be the noumena, and only divine intelligence would know the role it has assigned them among the marvels of creation. In conversation, Heidegger also quoted René Char: “Look only once at the wave casting anchor in the sea.” “Of all clear waters, poetry is the one that dallies least in the reflections of its bridges.”104 Thinking and poetry corrode teleocracy as rust from a gentle rain corrodes iron. Again, it is Meister Eckhart who dared translate such corrosion into a discourse on action: “The just man seeks nothing in his works. Those are serfs and hirelings who seek anything in their works and who act for the sake of some ‘why’”105
3. From the viewpoint of the economies, lastly, granting the thing an open field means to commit oneself to a transition, to the passage from violence to anarchy. This translocation leads from a place where entities stand constrained under an epochal principle to one where they are restored to radical contingency. It is a passage from ‘substances’ determined by immutable first principles—archai and telē—to ‘things’ emerging mutably into their equally mutable ‘world’. Heidegger suggests the innocence restored to the manifold and to mutability especially in his texts on the work of art. His Heraclitean strategy broadens the scope of these texts beyond what is called aesthetics. The work of art establishes a network of references around itself and thereby produces truth as a contingent sphere of interdependence. For Heidegger the artwork is the paradigm not of the “founding deed,”106 but of the non-principial way a thing opens up a world and the world places the thing. However, for an economy to so restore all things to their worlds—for economic anarchy to so displace the principles—the practical condition is the downfall of those telic phantasms that have already “lost their constructive force and become void.”107 To the question, What is to be done? when raised together with the question, What is being? a radical phenomenologist can only respond: dislodge all vestiges of a teleocratic economy from their hideouts—in common sense as much as in ideology—and thereby liberate things from the “ordinary concept” which “captures” them under ultimate representations. In the ambiguous situation of a possible transition, that, then, is how Heidegger’s thought of the temporal difference enables one not to remain passive under the technological “assault.”
Inasmuch as the crises or reversals in history impose practical conditions on thinking and acting, a phenomenology that attempts to understand being as time cannot remain content with a merely descriptive notion of anarchy. Every mode of presencing—every constellation of the temporal difference—reaches us as a call (Anruf), a demand (Anspruch). This prescriptive trait turns the imminent constellation into the measure for praxis. It also turns the doing commensurate with the potential ahead of us, into the condition for realizing that potential. If, then, technology ‘voids’ telic referents and renders possible an essentially a-teleocratic constellation, Heidegger indeed bares a measure for praxis today: it is the discontinuity in the event of appropriation. He responds to epochal violence by revealing the fissure that appears in fixed entitative constellations when we do what Ereignis does, namely, grant the thing an open field. He has been cautious on what it would entail for our institutions to break up constant presence, but he has been explicit on what it entails for language to uncover the break that releasement introduces into the metaphysical structure of propositions. As has been shown earlier, the obstacle par excellence that screens off the event of appropriation stems from the “Greek metaphysical fundaments . . . of the sentence as a relation of subject to predicate.” The potential of complying solely with the event of presencing appears in the realm of language as “the potential of saying ‘There is being’ and ‘There is time’ without understanding these as propositional statements.”108 Heidegger points directly to the ambiguity of our contemporary economic site—the ambiguity of the ‘anarchy principle’—when he regrets that the conference “Time and Being” could still “speak merely in propositional statements.”109
However allusory Heidegger’s remarks about the practical implications of his thinking may be, and however obstinate his refusal to admit to any at all, there is no doubt that, on the linguistic level, his attack on the proposition and, on the ontological level, his interpretation of the temporal difference in terms of ‘thing and world’, demand the introduction of radical fluidity into social institutions as well as into practice in general. Given the bifrontal essence of technology, to legitimate practice can no longer mean to refer what is doable to a first ground or some supreme reason, to a final end or some ultimate goal. The principle of reason is overturned as it is not present entities (and acts inasmuch as they are entities, too) that call for a ground, but groundless presencing that calls upon existence and demands equally groundless acting. This is how we are to understand the complex link, mentioned toward the end of the epigraph to this section, between the grammar of the proposition, the difference between ‘thing and world’, and the removal of the principial obstacles as just so many conditions for compliance with the event of appropriation: “Any conception and enunciation of the thing, which tend to place themselves between the thing and us, must first be removed.” Which are the conceptions and enunciations that most massively tend to place themselves between us and things emerging into their world? They are the conceptions and enunciations about essentially hubristic (‘unjust’, in Anaximander’s words) representations—the epochal principles. These, then, are to be removed if the potential in our disjunctive era is to be seized and systemic violence transmuted into economic an-archy. Only on the condition of that removal does the “entry into the Ereignis” become possible in the strict sense of the word: the entry into what is eigen—not what is ‘proper’ or one’s ‘own’ (property, appropriation, possession), but what is oikeion (from oikos, the ‘house’, hence ‘eco-nomy’), pertaining to one’s dwelling. The entry into the event is the homecoming from metaphysical errancy, which, for us children of technology, remains thinkable and doable only as the struggle against the injustice, the hubris, of enforced residence under prinicpial surveillance—whatever form it may take. Such removal would be the politics of ‘mortals’ instead of ‘rational animals’. It carries out the answer to the question, What is to be done at the end of metaphysics?