Should thinking, through an open resistance
to “humanism,” risk an impulse . . . ?
“Letter on Humanism”1
The anti-humanism enunciated by Heidegger in these lines is not unheard of in the twentieth century. For the following reasons, I should like briefly and schematically to parallel one definite experience in Heidegger with one in Marx and in Nietzsche. For Heidegger, “the beginning of metaphysics in Plato’s thinking is at the same time the beginning of ‘humanism.’ ”2 There-fore the end of metaphysics may indeed signify the end of a certain humanism. Moreover a methodical disinterest in the concept of man characterizes contemporary developments in the human sciences as much as in philosophy. In addition, the relevance of the “turning” for reconsidering the nature of action can be grasped only if it designates a shift in the general constellation of presence rather than in just an individual attitude of thought. Lastly, Marx and Nietzsche have, each in his way, experienced what in the preceding chapter has appeared as the de-centering of phenomena. I wish to show, then, how in these three writers an isomorphic reversal takes place through which the operative concept of origin ceases to be humanistic and becomes plural; how in late modernity, in other words, the origin becomes dispersed.
To be sure, these three writers are not saying the same things. But all three speak from a reversal in the coordinates of their historical locus which is functionally comparable. Their respective situations are structurally alike due to the experience of a break. What is the consequence of this break for a genealogy of epochal principles? If it could be shown that with it the very quest for an ultimate referent becomes impossible, then their threefold experience of rupture would by the same token be the experience of the end of principial history. Each of them would have sensed an incipient purification. And if it could be shown that the referent dismissed in each of these three cases is man as the point of reference, as the ‘center’, for what is knowable about entities, then their experience would anticipate a constellation of presence where such a cognitive center fails entirely. What would make their experiences alike is the move away from man.
My point of departure lies in the observation that “the concern for human being and for the position of man in the midst of entities dominates metaphysics throughout.”3 The main perspectives from which this genealogy will reveal the end of the metaphysical lineage, then, are the break (or turning), plurification, and the de-centering of man or anti-humanism.
To show how these three concepts operate within the genealogy, I will take recourse in a fourth, namely ‘economy of presence’. Let us say for now, that ‘economy’ refers to what Heidegger calls the constellations of concealing-unconcealing, i.e., to aletheiological constellations, and ‘presence’ (Anwesenheit) to being as it appears in a given context, i.e., to what he also calls beingness. Presence is a historical mode of ‘presencing’ (Anwesen, but this distinction is not rigorous in Heidegger). There are, then, a great many economies of presence. As metaphysical, they are ruled by an epochal principle, and as post-metaphysical they are an-archic. The argument I am proposing here is that the same transition from a principial economy to an anarchic economy of presence is reflected in Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Even if the hypothesis of closure were in this way confirmed by further testimony, it would remain a hypothesis nonetheless. Unlike knowledge, thinking does not rest on proofs or accumulated evidence. But the shifts experienced by Marx and Nietzsche may be treated as indices. They will indicate a fundamental reversal in the exchange of actions, things, and words and so suggest the incipient transition from the modern to the post-modern era. (Just like the term ‘deconstruction’, that of ‘post-modernity’ has suffered the fate Western mass culture inflicts on its most pertinent conceptualizations: turned into slogans, they lose their savor like styrofoam peaches. In speaking of the possible transition toward a post-modern economy I wish to counter the counter-revolution currently in full swing, according to which all that is left for us today is to plunder the past and reshuffle bits and pieces of it in a carnival of quotations and collages. For such flashcard historicism no novel arrangement of actions, things, and words is thinkable. But just this novelty is at stake in the hypothesis that modernity may be the last epoch in principial history).
The concept of anti-humanism is of Marxist origin. As used by Althusser, it denotes Marx’s polemic refusal of a metaphysics of man. It connotes the rejection of the program derived from such a metaphysics, a program that aims at restoring “integral man.”4 It was Feuerbach’s project to conceive the reconciliation between individual and total Man by the individual’s appropriating the totality of human predicates. But the concept of antihumanism is more than a weapon simply in the polemic against idealist anthropology. It refers in several ways to an attempt at surmounting representations centered on the epochal figure of man. Here are a few of these representations:
Cultural individuality. In this sense, the subject that anti-humanism relegates to the background of philosophy is the subject of inwardness, of the mémoires intérieurs. It is the inner self whose complexities fascinate Western man and which he has learned to refine through educational ideals inspired by the Renaissance, by von Humboldt and Winckelmann—or by Napoleon’s Memorial of Saint-Helena. In a first approach, anti-humanism is a useful strategy for conceptualizing how, in a society moving toward cultural isomorphism, the individual is threatened with spiritual homelessness.
Reflective subjectivism. Anti-humanism offers itself as a critique of reflection. Reflectivity presupposes that man can somehow draw meaning out of his own ground, that the mind only needs to take its spontaneous acts as objects of thought in order to know the truth. “Reflection is nothing but an attention to what is in us,”5 says Leibniz. This conception of subject has been contested by transcendental criticism. Since then, it is scarcely maintained anymore that reflection grasps a thinking thing or eternal essences, but rather that it reaches a mere functional pole within a system of forms. The Kantian formal subject, understood as an ordered a priori multiplicity of functions, can in this sense be considered the forefather of ‘structure’.
Transcendental subjectivity. Kant’s understanding of man as a merely functional unity of a priori forms has indeed, in its way, prepared man’s elimination, proclaimed today, from the central position in the field of knowledge and discourse. Inasmuch as with Kant the subject of the predicate ‘thinking’ retreats into unknowability, transcendental criticism is not the counter-position to deconstruction but rather its antecedent. The exposition of the paralogisms in the inference from thinking to thinker must be viewed as the first step in the direction of this economic deconstruction, except that today the ego itself becomes ‘subject to’ a system of functions. In this way the formalism discovered with the help of the Cogito is turned against the Cogito. The radical transcendentalism of what I call the economies of presence also dislodges transcendental subjectivity from its sovereign position.
The practical subject. “History is a process, and a process without a subject.”6 “What is bewailed with such vehemence is not the disappearance of history, but the eclipse of that form of history that was secretly, but entirely, referred to the synthetic activity of the subject.”7 Whether considered from the viewpoint of the relations of production or from that of discursive regularities, man appears as a public object rather than as a private or transcendental subject. He appears even less as history-making, as a person responsible for his acts, as the initiator of a new order of things, in short, as a moral agent. The old Socratic unity between knowledge and virtue comes apart the moment the subject of that unity is no more than one variable within a vast exchange of functions. It is finally the subject in this sense of an actor in history that disappears with the hypothesis of closure.
These four senses of subjectivity—individuality, reflectivity, transcendentality, and morality—blend in many ways. Their unity constitutes “humanism” in the sense of “the characteristic feature of all metaphysics, which is that it is “humanistic.’ ”8 It is this very broad notion of humanism that Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger (as well as their epigones Foucault and Althusser) criticize. The element common to these three masters of anti-humanism lies in their experience of a reversal—or rather, in their experience that a reversal is articulating itself through them. I am attempting a cross-section through the contemporary economy of words, things, and actions, and comparing twentieth-century closing modernity with nineteenth-century late modernity. If with the possible shift beyond modernity our economy of presence ceases to be centered on man, then we will have an ontologicai reason for saying with Lévi-Strauss that man has been “the insufferable spoiled child that has occupied the philosophical scene far too long and has hindered all serious work by its demands for exclusive attention.”9
— I hardly know anymore who and where I
— None of us knows that as soon as we stop
— But don’t we still have the path we have
— To be sure. But forgetting it too quickly
we give up thinking.
“Conversation on a Country Path
Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger: three moments in a single epochal crisis (ϰϱίvειv, to separate) from late to closing modernity.
1. The concept of epistemological break has been developed from Marx’s writings by Louis Althusser: “Beginning in 1845, Marx broke radically with every theory that based history and politics on an essence of man.”11 This is to say that beginning with the German Ideology, the entire language of human essence borrowed directly from Feuerbach and indirectly from Hegel—although paradoxically used by the young Marx to stand Hegel on his feet—disappears from Marx’s thinking. According to Althusser, the break produces a scientific theory of history and politics based on radically new concepts, such as “productive forces, relations of production, superstructure, ideology, determination in the last instance by economy,” etc. Furthermore, since that break, theory can no longer be confused with philosophy, which as philosophy of consciousness is humanistic through and through. Finally, not only does philosophy appear humanistic, but both philosophy and humanism are at the same time defined as ideology. Together they are opposed to “Marx’s scientific discovery” as one field of inquiry (Althusser also says one “continent”) is opposed to another. The technical term for designating this opposition is “problematic.” A problematic is a “typical systematic structure unifying all the elements of thought.”12 Basically, there are two problematics: the one Marx turned away from in 1845, namely humanism, philosophy, and ideology, and the one he turned toward, namely theory (political, historical, economic), science, knowledge. The path that leads from ideology to Marxist science appears as the transition from myth to knowledge. “It is impossible to know anything about people except on the absolute precondition that the philosophical myth of man is reduced to ashes.”13 Any discourse about man will retain a mythical cast as long as it does not rest on the new concepts of class struggle, division of labor, possession of the means of production. . . . And with these concepts what is at stake is precisely not man. Mythical discourse is opposed to science as thinking is opposed to knowing. After the break of 1845, the point for Marx is no longer to think man’s essence, but to know people’s practices. The leading representation is no longer man as the root (“To be radical is to grasp matters at the root. But for man the root is man himself”14). Rather, the leading representation is practice as strewn.
The epistemological break is thus to be understood as the continental divide between two problematics, ideology and science. As such, it appears once and for all. The Marxian experience of the epochal reversal from modern humanism to incipient post-modern anti-humanism draws the line between thinking and knowing. This does not mean that the new economy of things, actions, and words has no room for pure thinking, but that henceforth thinking belongs to the ideological field. Non-scientific thinking will remain with us forever. It is even necessary, not only because it allows Marxist science to demarcate its own field of validity, but also because it provides this science with its contents. I shall show later that nothing compels us to blunt the Marxian reversal by qualifying the break as merely epistemological. But whether its ontological import is recognized or not, Marx’s discovery of the anti-humanist viewpoint in 1845 remains a fact. Viewed in this new perspective, his earlier manuscripts appear in their true light: as variations on idealist and humanist themes. If Marx did not publish them, it is because they preceded his literally “critical” discovery of the heterogeneity between thinking and knowing.
2. Nietzsche describes a similar crisis: “Now I shall relate the history of my Zarathustra. The fundamental conception of this work, the idea of the eternal recurrence, this highest formula of affirmation that is at all attainable, belongs in August 1881: it was penned on a sheet with the notation underneath: ‘Six thousand feet beyond man and time’. That day I was walking through the woods along the lake of Silvaplana; at a powerful pyramidal rock not far from Surlei I stopped. It was then that this idea came to me.”15 Six thousand feet beyond man, “it” came to Nietzsche; “it invaded me,” he says. The very first mention of the thought Zarathustra teaches, the eternal recurrence, situates it above “man,” outside the human. The content of this teaching is as follows: “That everything recurs is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being—high point of the meditation.”16 In the discovery of the eternal recurrence, described here as the convergence between becoming and being, between flux and form, “meditation”—not theōria but thinking—culminates.
Prior to being invaded by something that addresses itself to thinking alone, Nietzsche’s philosophy had a decidedly humanist cast. Witness his first writings on “the metaphysics of the artist.” These texts describe an ideal of genius, of creation of values, of self-assertion in the face of corrosive asceticism. After the great discovery of 1881, these can no longer be the highest formula of affirmation. From the self-assertion of the subject it is necessary to climb “six thousand feet beyond man.” Only the thought of the eternal recurrence does justice to becoming and affirms it. The subject appears as a fiction, an artificial immobilization of the flux. “The ‘subject’ is the fiction that many similar states in us are the effect of one substratum.” “My hypotheses: the subject as multiplicity.”17 This great discovery of 1881 as well as the “proofs” that Nietzsche attempted of it are thought experiments. As knowledge claims about what nature really is, they would simply be misconstrued. This discovery is neither meant nor fit to assume the status of knowledge. It is an attempt and a temptation, says Nietzsche, rather than the result of some demonstration. It is a possible thought of a possibility. But nevertheless, a decisive thought, ‘cutting off’ (de-caedere) one epoch from another; a thought that is entscheidend because it scheidet, separates. Since then, much remains for us to think but little for us to know. There are “only multiplicities in any case; but ‘unity’ is nowhere present in the nature of becoming.” There are only “complex forms of relative life-duration within the flux of becoming,”18 only configurations of forms and forces for thought but no truth in and for itself. Truth as the correlate of knowing is itself a fiction. “Truth is that kind of error without which a certain species of living beings could not live.”19
In this second experience of the epochal reversal, knowing and thinking are no longer assigned their respective fields, as in Marx. Knowing follows the fictions of thinking. “There would be nothing that could be called knowledge if thought did not first re-create the world.” To “know” is to create the fictions that we hold as objective and true. But in the perspective acquired in 1881, truth too is only a thought creation, hence untrue. “Only because there is thought is there untruth.”20 And the first of these untruths or fictions is man understood as knowing and acting subject, as self.
3. The third experience of the epochal shift from a humanist economy into the anti-humanist one is dated shortly before 1930. In that year, writes Heidegger, a development culminates in which “everything is turned around.” “Hier kehrt sich das Ganze um.”21 Throughout his later writings he refers to this Kehre—“the turning”—as the response in thinking to the Kehre in the economy of presence. When the constellation of things, actions, and words mutates into a new era, understanding finds itself unsettied. For the economy that expires in such a reversal, this shift constitutes the supreme danger. Nevertheless, thinking can then give itself over to its sole and unique task: gathering up the economic traits of presence so as to retrieve presencing as such. For Heidegger, the type of thinking he experienced in 1930 put an end to a previous type of thinking as old as the Western love of wisdom. Philosophy as a whole appears as “one thinking,” to which “the other thinking” is now opposed. Strictly speaking, the latter is no longer philosophic. It is entirely a response, namely, to the nascent economy. How does one respond to the crisis of modernity? By “stepping back from the thinking that merely represents, that is, from explanatory thinking, toward the thinking that attends. This step back which leads us from one thinking to the other is no mere shift in attitude.”22
Heidegger’s thinking is critical inasmuch as it steps back from things present to the economy in which they ‘presence’. Such a step proves to be so radical that it endangers the understanding man has of himself. “Should thinking, through an open resistance to ‘humanism’, risk an impulse that could cause perplexity about the humanitas of homo humanus and its basis?”23 Still more, it threatens man’s central position in the modern economy: “ ‘Humanism’, should we decide to retain the word, henceforth means: the essence of man is essential for the truth of being, but in such a way that, as a matter of consequence, what is at stake is precisely not man merely as such.’24 The step backward from phenomena to their epochal condition may even imperil civilization and culture: “the other thinking,” that which gathers up the withering away of principles at the end of the genealogy of epochal economies, is urgent, “but not for the sake of man so that his creations may vindicate civilization and culture.”25
Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger all begin with at least a methodical interest in man. The humanism of the young Marx, the “metaphysics of the artist,” and the existential analytic share this trait. In each of them a reversal is felt which has multiple effects: as the contemporary age establishes its order, man retreats from the scene as that which is most intensely present, and thinking acquires its independence from knowing. Following the same threefold guiding thread, let us see how the end of the humanist genealogical lineage affects the respective understanding of origin. Man as decentered can no longer be the origin of objectivity as he was in anthropocentric criticism. If our place in history is indeed that of a dawning era in which man is driven from his principial position, how will the ‘origin’ of that economy of presence have to be understood?
In accordance with the intrinsically manifold
state of affairs which is that of being and
time, all words giving it utterance—like
“turning,” “forgottenness,” and “mittence”—
remain multivocal. Only a manifold thinking
will succeed in an utterance that corresponds
to the very issue of that state of affairs.
As we have seen, an epoch is dominated by what is ‘first caught’ in it, by its primum captum, its principle. When the modern epoch is described by the triumph of subjectivity, this means that at least since Descartes, but more profoundly since Plato, philosophy has systematically inquired about man ‘in the first place’, and of everything else in relation to him. Man is the theoretical origin from which objects receive their status of objectivity. Nothing is more revealing in this respect than the project of a universal mathēsis: for the moderns knowledge is protected from the onslaught of doubt only when it rests on a first that renders mathēsis ‘universal’, that is, turned toward the one’, turned toward man. The modern cognitive project consists in establishing the subject as the unshakable, indubitable foundation of knowledge. Not so for thought projects. If, with the closure, thinking achieves its emancipation from knowing, it is also freed from domination by the One. To thinking, as opposed to knowing, the origin does not offer itself as a principium. Within thinking, the word ‘origin’ recovers its etymological meaning: oriri, coming forth. For thinking, and incipient with the closure, origination means multiple presencing.
1. The humanism of the young Marx is best understood as concomitant to the dialectic of consciousness. The essence of man exteriorizes and estranges itself and, by a process of “naturalization of man and humanization of nature,” recovers the fullness of its attributes. As has frequently been observed, the young Marx has by no means shed the idealist realism of universals. Only this time it is derived from a speculative principle called, following Feuerbach, “generic being.” However—and it is here that Althusser’s presentation of the epistemological break oversimplifies things—within the problematic of universals for consciousness, another inflection rings through which anticipates later developments in Marx. A well-known text, written before the break, describes the task of emancipation in Germany in these terms: “A class must be formed with radical chains . . . a sphere that can no longer claim any traditional title but only a human title, a sphere that does not stand partially opposed to the consequences, but totally opposed to the premises of the German political system . . . a sphere, in short, that is the complete loss of humanity and that can therefore redeem itself only by the complete redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society as a particular class is the proletariat.”27 The proletariat as the contradiction to the prevailing German political system must be formed! The class struggle is here taken out of the realm of the dialectics of consciousness in order to provide an answer to the question of what must be done. What is to be done in Germany? Form the proletariat. This is so because it does not exist there yet. Michel Henry calls that formation “the a priori construction of the proletariat.”28 Even more, not only is contradiction not described as a universal law in this text, but Marx also speaks of man otherwise than in terms of a specific essence: the “total redemption” of what is human is also a practical, political goal. The necessary conditions for conflict do not exist in Germany, Marx observes, as they do in France and England. “Here, then, is our reply,” he writes in the introduction to this text. The status of the entire Hegelian vocabulary of essence, opposition, self-alienation, universals, suddenly topples. Once metaphysical, it becomes strategic. Marx has recourse to this vocabulary only to make himself heard by the Germans who understand only dialectic. This transference of contradiction and its resolution into strategy announces nothing less than an egress from metaphysical principles. It is an indicator of the shift in what is held to be originary.
Beginning with the German Ideology, Marx’s understanding of the origin explicitly turns away from any realism of universals as well as from any essence, any speculative referent to which individual phenomena would stand as predicates. Here, too, the key text is well known, although not always interpreted in this sense: “The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas; they are real premises from which we can abstract ourselves only in imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions of their lives. . . . [Individuals] begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence. . . . What they are, therefore, coincides with their production.”29 The new standpoint gained in 1845 is the realism of the laboring individual. It is expressed by the equation between reality and individual practice. It requires that we relocate originary being in the activity through which people sustain their lives. What happens, then, in the so-called epistemological break is primarily not of an epistemological order at all. Something more fundamental than the constitution of ‘Marxist science’ occurs. The way the origin is understood undergoes a transmutation such that Marx can indeed claim to have put an end to all philosophies that refer the phenomenal to some noumenal in-itself, to a metaphysical principium.
Beginning with this break there is, properly speaking, no origin as one, that orders the late modern economy of things, actions, and words. There is no origin, but only a profusion of originary actions by which individuals satisfy their basic needs. The origin becomes fragmented, monadic, in accordance with a monadic understanding of practice in the German Ideology. Therefore, we must understand the break of 1845 not only as the separation of one epistemological “continent” from the other, as the rift between ideology and science, but more decisively as the splintering, the plurification of the origin. Within Marx’s texts, the epochal reversal appears as the inversion of two problematics: the realism of universal essences, which constituted the major problematic before 1845, recedes only to reappear later in limited theoretical fields, namely, historiography, political theory, economy, and the critique of ideology. The notion of “value” in Capital may be viewed as one example of such a return of universalist realism. At the same time, the realism of individual practice, which constituted the minor problematic in the early writings, comes to the fore in 1845 and remains the major problematic in all the philosophical works to come. More precisely, it remains the philosophical background that alone makes all the later writings fully intelligible. Whenever Marx speaks of universals, such as classes, he does so within the framework of what would have to be called regional theories, which derive their intelligibility from originary practice, the practice of the individual working in order to satisfy physical needs. Such originary practice is as irreducibly manifold as individual practices are, and it cannot be known. The subject matter (such as means of production, forms of property, classes, the state, ideologies, party strategies) of regional theories yields knowledge, whereas originary practice can only be thought. When Marx reduces thinking to ideology, this is understandable given his polemic against the philosophy of consciousness. Ideology constitutes the farthest refraction of originary practice. Marx’s discovery of the plural origin and the way it relates to theory and ideology can indeed be represented as a series of refractions. In the medium of knowledge, originary practice appears as theory; in the still farther removed medium of imagination, it appears as ideology. Marx limits the role of thought to its ideological refractions, and so reduces thought to imagination. Structurally, however, the proper issue for thinking is originary practice itself. To think is to gather up the multiple originary acts prior to the constitution of theoretical or imaginary universals. At any rate, at the level of originary practice no appeal is made, can be made, to the humanistic quest for self-identity, self-possession, resolution of alienation, etc. Marx’s anti-humanism results, not from the discovery of a new “scientific continent” (Althusser), but from that of originary practice and its monadic, atomistic allotropism.
2. A comparable but not identical fragmentation of the origin occurs in Nietzsche’s experience of thinking. Here, too, man is dislodged from his principial position as a consequence of a more radical displacement, namely, the transmutation of the origin as a single principle into the origin as polymorphous activity. This is the transmutation of an ultimate speculative in-itself, e.g., Schopenhauer’s “will,” into the “will to power” as a mere differential factor among forces. Again the monistic origin is atomized. After this fragmentation, no force or value will any longer play the role of an enduring first principle. In the order of thinking, the transmutation of all values only responds and corresponds to the epochal reversal, to the reversal that Nietzsche experienced as having already placed us in a different economy. The incursion on the origin as one is carried out by a historical deconstruction that reveals “how the ‘true world’ finally became a fable”30 (in one page, this text provides the pattern for all the destructions, desedimentations, archaeologies, and deconstructions that have emerged in the twentieth century). The correlative attempt to understand the origin as multiple is articulated for instance by the expression already mentioned, “complex forms of relative life duration within the flux of becoming.” If there is some kinship between Marx’s and Nietzsche’s thinking, I see it in this plurification of the origin.
The Nietzschean notion of complex forms within the flux of becoming is explicitly atomistic. “Our way of thinking is to a great extent Heraclitean and Democritean,” he says.31 However, instead of “atoms,” he speaks of “forces.” These include cultural entities such as good and evil, as well as natural ones: “I am wary of speaking of chemical ‘laws’: that savors of morality. It is far more a question of the absolute establishment of power relationships.”32 The origin as manifold, then, consists in the ever new formation of complex forces within the flux of becoming. Nietzsche calls these configurations of forces “formations of domination.” For instance: “In place of ‘sociology’, a theory of the formations of domination.”33 It is this concept of formations of domination, Herrschaftsgebilde, which allows one to think becoming and the dissolution of the subject. “The sphere of a subject constantly growing or decreasing, the center of the system constantly shifting; in cases where it cannot organize the appropriate mass, it breaks into two parts.”34 In this way, phenomena of split personalities as well as social or chemical phenomena are thought—but not ‘explained’, known—by these constellations of forces. “Formations of domination: the sphere of that which dominates continually growing or periodically increasing and decreasing according to the favorability or unfavorability of circumstances.”35
These formations appear as aggregates of forces temporarily realized by a stronger force: “The individual itself as a struggle between parts (for food, space, etc.): its evolution tied to the victory or predominance of individual parts, to an atrophy, a ‘becoming an organ’ of other parts.”36 In Nietzsche’s thought, the concept of eternal recurrence is the one that allows him best to affirm the radical fluidity of inorganic, organic, social, and cultural forces. All these forces struggle on equal footing so long as one of them does not impose its temporary order on all others. The eternal recurrence is the affirmation of these countless onsets.
An epochal economy, made of such finite formations of domination, is by definition precarious. It corresponds entirely to the Aristotelian notion of the contingent: that which can be or not be. And if any necessity stands opposed to these formations it is none other than that of chance, of play, of throwing dice. They are not derived from anything that might resist change. Nietzsche’s program of transvaluation subverts all representations of a first, be it man, God, a principle for reasoning or acting, or an ideal such as scientific truth. Nietzsche is assuredly entitled to the various epithets of Anti-Christ, Anti-Socrates, Immoralist (or rather Amoralist). Strictly speaking, however, these are titles of incipient closure. They express, not some doctrine on the subject of Christ, Socrates, or morality, but the foundering of any epochal principle at the end of modernity. They are titles for the transmutation of the origin understood as primum captum into the origin as unseizable aggregation and disaggregation of forces. In opposition to the Christian, Socratic, or moral principles, the configurations of forces perpetually change. They give birth to the economies and they prompt their death. The Nietzschean origin is the economy of metamorphic formations of domination. Their epochal reversals occur through the weight of a new force. Nietzsche understands his thought of the eternal recurrence as having already placed us in a new order: this thought “comes first to one, then to many, and finally, to all.”37 It “comes,” it is not the product of a creative act of genius. Thinking assumes the very anonymity of the economy that Nietzsche sees ahead of us.
To speak of the end of the humanistic epoch therefore not only implies that man is no longer the referent in relation to which all things are known. This end entails another consequence: man is by no means the master of the epochal economies. They unfold and fold up again. They articulate themselves in us in unforeseeable ways, and once they have had their time, the mode according to which they render things present is irretrievably lost. The Nietzschean genealogy of values and typology of the will therefore do not revive past modes of dominant presence. They merely trace their progressive extenuation. Values and forms of will have their origin in the formations of domination and fade with them, as do the laws of thinking. When actions, things, and words arrange themselves in a new pattern, thinking changes. What gives rise to thinking escapes it. Such is the discovery made by Nietzsche in that crucial summer of 1881. The anthropocentrie economy which has ruled Western culture since antiquity reveals its perspectivai nature. Accordingly, any epochal principle turns out to be no more than a perspective projected on the chaos of forces. I take him literally when he says of his discovery: “This is my experience of inspiration; I do not doubt that one has to go back thousands of years in order to find anyone who could say to me, ‘It is mine as well’.”38 Thousands of years—indeed, two thousand. Such is the interval that must be crossed in order to rejoin that other caesura which instated man as the referent and measure for Western theory and praxis.
3. As the text cited in the epigraph to this section indicates, the Heideggerian purification of the origin is the result of multiple relations between being and time. In this—and even if “today everyone thinks and poetizes in the light and the shadow of Nietzsche, with his ‘for him’ or ‘against him’”39—Heidegger’s deconstructing differs irreconcilably from both Marx’s and Nietzsche’s dismantling (taking away dissimulating mantles). They had a foreboding of the closure, but they did not think “the turning.”
The origin becomes multiple in Heidegger only with the passage from existential or ecstatic temporality to destinal or epochal temporality.
In Being and Time, it is indeed Dasein that is originary. “The ontological site” of phenomena is determined there by their “originary rootedness” in existence.40 Because it is systematically linked to the transcendentalism of the existential analytic, fundamental ontology cannot produce what Heidegger later calls a “multivocal” concept of being. A fundamental ontology conceived in view of the existential analytic cannot but trace everything that appears back to man, for whom it appears. The origin is man understood as “that entity for which . . . , in its being, that being itself is at issue”41 And in what way is being an issue for man? “The meaning of Dasein is temporality.”42 Being is the issue as always ahead of the project which man is, always before him, still to come and to be grasped. The ecstases are rooted in this to-come. “The essence of temporality is the process of temporalizing in the unity of the ecstases.” More precisely, “the having-been arises from the future, and in such a way that the future which has been (or better, which unfolds as having been) releases the present from itself. This unitary phenomenon of a future that unfolds as having been and as rendering itself present is what we call temporality.”43 Being is the issue for man, temporally. In this projective and ecstatic issue, phenomena have their origin.
“The turning” puts an end to such a radical, radicular relation between time and being. The ecstatic rootedness of time in man can no longer be originary once presencing is understood as having a history. From then on, the origin is no longer singular. It designates, on one hand, the rise or inception (Anfang) of an epochal economy, and on the other, the mutual entry into presence of things, words, and actions, that is, their springing forth (Ursprung), their coming to presence within such an economy. Henceforth, the origin is epochal and eventlike. As epochal or diachronie, it inaugurates an age; as eventlike or synchronic, it opens the mercurial play of presencing which—each time, here and now—plays us quite as Heraclitus s “playing child” plays the world. This is no longer a ‘radical’ play, but rather a rhizomatic one.44
Thinking, too, becomes historical-ahistorical. On one hand, to think means to remember: to recall the birth of an epoch and the sequence of ancestors that establish its filiation. When a historical world falls in place, its beginning assigns us a new dwelling. A new arrangement produces a new nomos of our oikos, a new economy. The thinking that recalls our beginnings is best described as economic thinking. On the other hand, to think means to gather. The event to be grasped here is not history-founding; it is not a setting to work that makes an epoch. The event to be gathered synchronically is rather the presencing by which phenomena appear within a given arrangement, the way each component has of rendering itself present in an order. Keeping in mind the literal sense of legein, to gather, one may call this logical thinking. ‘Economic thinking’ can be illustrated by the example of the Parthenon: within the network of actions, things, and words, the way an entity like the Acropolis is present epochally assumed a well-defined, although complex character—when rhapsodes prepared for the Panathenaean festival, when the Parthenon served as a Byzantine church, when the Turks used it as a powder magazine. Today, when it has become a commodity for tourist consumption and when UNESCO plans to protect it from pollution with a plastic dome, it is present in an epochal economy in yet another fashion—a mode of presence certainly inconceivable for its architect, Ichtynos. At each moment of this history, the edifice was present according to finite, unforeseeable, uncontrollable traits. And each reversal entailed the irremediable disappearance of such an epochal physiognomy. As for ‘logical thinking’, it steps back from epochē and attempts to retrieve presencing as such. The disparity between the two will yield the temporal difference.
The issue of both the genealogy of epochal principles and the phenomenology of presencing as such—economic as well as logical thinking—is the origin as multiple. Heidegger’s attitude after the turning is therefore necessarily anti-humanistic. This is so since the hypothesis of closure makes him look toward an oriri that belongs to “being as time,”45 and no longer to human temporality. The “intrinsically manifold state of affairs which is that of being and time” prohibits referring the epochs and their closure, let alone the “event,” to some figure of root, of the One, of man. It is because of this anti-humanism that Heidegger’s concept of epochē has nothing to do with Husserl’s. The phenomenology of the reversals in history follows the trail of the regimes to which unconcealment gave “sudden birth,” but which have folded up their order to withdraw again into concealment. The genealogist seeks to understand this phenomenon of an encompassing, although precarious arrangement as it comes about and recedes. The birth of such an arrangement is “epochal,” since in it presencing as such ‘withholds’ (epechein) itself. Thus what establishes us in our precarious dwellings is not some thing, it is nothing—a mere coming to pass. In the deconstruction of the texture or text of Western history, phenomenology remains transcendental in that it looks for the context which is the world; it is however dissociated from all a priori reference to the subject as text-maker. The principle of an epoch is a factual a priori, finite and of a non-human facticity. It exhibits the paradox of an “ontologicai fact.”46 What bequeaths the historical epochs and their principles, the ‘event’, is itself nothing, neither a human nor a divine subject,47 nor an available or analyzable object.48 Presencing reserves itself. But by its withdrawal, by withholding itself, it keeps things present, as if in a preserve. Heidegger borrows the word epochē not from Husserl, but from the Stoics.49 Hence, this word does not here mean objectivation or systematic bracketing by a thetic act of consciousness. The word is taken in the broader sense of an act of interruption, a halting place, a stopping point. To speak of an “epoch” in presencing means two things: presencing itself withholds itself in what is present; and presencing marks or stamps the stopping points that found the ages. The first meaning of the word becomes inoperative with ‘the turning’; the second defines intrametaphysical ‘reversals’. Thus the age of metaphysical closure is the end of epochal history. The halting places of the differences between preseneing and modes of presence are ascribable to no other condition than presencing itself.50 Therefore, it is still the event of presencing that the genealogist strives to uncover, if indirectly. Furthermore, even though the epoch is an anti-humanist notion in Heidegger, it nonetheless entails an imperative for thinking. The deconstruction sets presencing free in its arrival and its withdrawal; to this issue for thought, so retrieved, thinking responds and corresponds by “reserving” (an sich halten) in its turn “all usual doing and prizing, knowing and looking.”51
In whatever way it is articulated—by the transcendental materialism of the laboring individual, by the typology of the formations of domination, or by the phenomenology of the difference between presencing and modes of presence—the closure requires that man renounce the role of chief focal point in the genealogical depositions and dispositions. Without anti-humanism, there can be no metaphysical closure. And only anti-humanism authorizes Heidegger’s saying that it is “the mittence of being”—not man or Spirit—that opens and closes the epochs: “In every phase of metaphysics a portion of a way becomes visible each time that the mittence of being clears for itself in sudden epochs of truth upon whatever is.”52 An epoch is not an era, but the self-establishing of an era. The arrangement that orders everything present, stops or punctuates its way through the ages. Our history, then, will count as many origins as it will admit thresholds. Whether these are discovered in following the revolutions in the modes of production or, as Heidegger sometimes does, in following the transitions between natural languages (Greek, Latin, modern vernacular), the formal description of these breaks need not vary. What counts is the diachronical atomization of the origin that the genealogy of the epochal principles reveals.
The atomization of the origin, however, attains its true profusion only with the synchronical ‘event’. This will be described later by the temporal difference between the original and the originary.
Thinking, “more sober than scientific technology,” has its own necessity, which comes to it from the principles and their genealogy. This necessity was recognized and mocked at the same time by Marx when he paraphrased Proudhon in these words: “Each principle has had its own century in which to manifest itself. The principle of authority, for example, had the eleventh century, and the principle of individualism, the eighteenth. Consequently, it was the century that belonged to the principle, and not the principle to the century. In other words, it was the principle that made the history, and not the history that made the principle.”53 If we extract these formulations from the context of the polemic against idealism—that is, if we do not conceive these principles in the form of idealities—we can retain a double genealogical truth from these lines. On one hand, they suggest how a principle, as it governs a temporary network of exchanges, emerges, reigns, and founders. They indicate the essential precariousness of epochal principles. On the other hand, they suggest that an order of things can be thought of only ex post facto, retrospectively. Furthermore, perhaps we may conclude from the raillery underlying this passage that for Marx idealist concepts of history have had their time and that with the “real” premises of the materialist conception of history, the lineage of hypostatized principles passes away. Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger have, each in his way, experienced such extinction. We will see that technology is the place where this lineage comes to an end. The non-humanistic language of epochal economies will thus make it possible to hold an alternative discourse on technology: from a Marxian viewpoint, the alternative to summary labels such as ‘late capitalism’ would be the transcendentalism of originary practice and its irreducible diversity; from a Nietzschean viewpoint, the alternative to the denunciation of technology as the global reach of the overman’s power (an entirely erroneous interpretation of Nietzsche in any case) would be the phenomenology of the will to power and its infinite modulations in the formations of domination; and from a Heideggerian viewpoint, the alternative to a summary rejection (impossible anyway) of the Gestell, technological “enframing,” would lie in the transcendental phenomenology of the economies of presence.
Before proceeding to the manifold senses of the origin (Part III), it has to be shown how the discovery of the epochal principles and the anti-humanism that results from their genealogy displaces die Sache selbst, the very issue, of phenomenology. This displacement emancipates thinking from knowing. I have tried to describe a few traits of this “other thinking”: its inability to produce knowledge; its essential dependence on the economies of presence which, in turn, provide its ‘matter’; its inability to secure a ground on which to rest metaphysical speculation or scientific research; its uselessness as a predicate of the subject ‘man’ and as an indicator of his nature; and finally, its plural essence. The “multivocity of utterance” is only the echo of “the allplaying conjunction of never-resting transmutation.”54
Unscientific Postscript to Anti-Humanism
It will be objected:
—The alliance between anti-humanism and anarchy is only too clear. We have seen sufficiently in the twentieth century where that kind of doctrine ultimately leads. Lofty praise of ‘thinking’ does nothing to mitigate the case. Under the pretext of alleviating the grip of technology, you end up eliminating all checks on violence. Granted, the purpose of the genealogy is not to return to ancient Greece. But it promotes a far more ill-starred regression. Qui veut faire l’ange fait la bête, and whoever wants to return to the origins of civilization runs the risk of trading it in for unbridled power. In fact, you lead us back to what in the eighteenth century was called the state of nature.
—How could there be a regression to or an apology for naked violence when the sole criterion of epochal transition is thinking? At Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, it occurred to Hannah Arendt that the evils of our century to which you allude resulted from thoughtlessness.55 And Heidegger’s case against technology stands and falls with the claim that it is dangerous because gedankenlos, thoughtless. This charge is accompanied by a conviction: thinking changes the world. How can a call for thoughtfulness be mistaken for a call for brutal force?
—This does not tell us why anti-humanism is not dangerous, particularly if the phrase is meant to inform us of what is to be done at the end of metaphysics. It sounds as if Heidegger’s project were to do away somehow with ‘man’, at least with the concept.
—A systemic inquiry into epochal economies (about which more in the following Part II) does not encounter ‘man’ as that issue to which all statements must ultimately be referrable if they are to make sense. In the so-called soft sciences initial resistances against considering activities such as myth-telling (Lévi-Strauss) and laboring (Althusser) structurally rather than referentially have largely been quelled today. Heidegger’s antihumanism enjoins one likewise to think of practice otherwise than in terms of determinations affecting an actor. As will be shown, the name for men in his anti-humanist strategy is ‘mortals’. As ‘rational animal’, man rules supreme over the economies, but as ‘mortal’ he is one variable within them. The difficult question will be: What is the practice—and the politics—of mortals? But the difficulty is not to distinguish between systemic and referential strategies. That distinction has already been legitimized by Kant when he established that “causality in accordance with the laws of nature” does not encounter, either to affirm or deny, the issue of “another causality, that of freedom.”56
—What then can ‘thinking’ do against the institutionalization of violence—against the brutality that is precisely ‘without principles’ and indifferent to man as ultimate referent?
—Institutionalized violence is visible to all today in the catatonic state that is the gift of generalized production and administration. Measured against these, much of contemporary violence amounts instead to counterviolence. If there is a regression in denouncing thoughtlessness, it is an analytical step backward from oppressions to the economies that make them possible. Pointing out the representations fictitiously endowed with ultimacy is the apogee of the Enlightenment. It is in no way an apology for obscuration and coercion. What needs to be analyzed are the principles born of epochs whose economy called for them. Genealogical analysis can show that these principles are not only deadly but also mortal.