The essence of the framing (Gestell) is the
danger . . . . In the essence of this danger lies
hidden the potential for a turning in which
the forgetfulness about the essence of being
will so turn itself that, with this turning, the
truth of the essence of being will expressly
turn in—turn homeward—into all that there
is. . . . The danger is the epoch of being
coming to presence as the framing.
The first element of the genealogy of principles is provided by the reversals (Wenden) between epochs. The second key element is that of the turning (die Kehre). The lines quoted above clearly indicate the general premise of the deconstruction, that with “the turning” the epochs in our history come to an end. This end of epochal history is the starting point for everything Heidegger has to say about both thinking and acting. One may call it his hypothesis of closure.
One essential way in which truth establishes
itself in the entities that it has opened up is
truth setting itself into work. Another way in
which truth comes to presence is the deed
that founds a political state.
“The Origin of the Work of Art”2
The phrase ‘practical philosophy’ can designate two things: either the special discipline that deals with human practice or the practical nature of philosophy in general. Paradigmatic for the first of these two meanings is the corpus of Aristotelian treatises entitled Ethics, Politics, and Economics. These treatises essentially borrow their rational schemata from the more ‘theoretical’ disciplines dealt with by the Metaphysics, the Organon, and the Physics. They examine human action according to structural relations, above all the pros hen relation. In practical philosophy as a ‘discipline’ descriptive and prescriptive discourse remain closely intertwined. The sum of what is knowable appears organized like a tree whose stem is ontology and whose branches are the applied sciences. This kind of organic derivation of an ideal pattern does not allow one to disentangle what is descriptive from what is prescriptive in practical discourse.
It is the nature of the prescriptive element that changes when the phrase ‘practical philosophy’ comes to mean that the very content of philosophy is practical. Such diverse authors as Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, Marx, and Kierkegaard would agree on this coincidence of the theoretical and the practical. As Heidegger understands ‘the truth of being’ instituting itself epochally in entities, in all entities, he renders any derivation of the practical from the ideal impossible. The lines quoted above give testimony to this encompassing essence of alētheia. Whether truth comes about in an artwork or in a political deed, these are but modalities in which it orders itself for awhile in a given area. It is useless, then, even to attempt a delineation between practical and theoretical philosophy. The relation between description and prescription changes because theory no longer consists in gathering up determinant idealities. A philosophy that describes the ‘epochal institutions’ of truth is, as a whole, both theoretical and practical. The practical is no longer measured by the theoretical. Thus the very terminology of prescription loses its pertinence. Instead, both theory and practice appear as regulated by the way presencing arranges itself for a time. This is not to deny any phenomenal distinctness between thinking and acting. It is however no longer thinking that spells out the paths to be followed by acting. Both are equally subject to aletheiological regulation. Thus preseneing articulates itself today according to the principle called ‘framing’ or ‘im-posing’. As such, it uniforms thinking, artistic creation, the terms in which political issues are raised and solved, as well as all other regions of possible experience. The aletheiological modulations in history stamp theory and practice with their epochal marks, but it is no longer the theoretical that stamps the practical with its ideal and normative marks.
Now “the turning” contains the hypothesis that guides this entire genealogy of epochal stamps, this genealogy of principles. In the turn of times which may have set in quite a while ago, “the forgetfulness about the essence of being so turn[s] itself that, with this turning, the truth of the essence of being expressly turn[s] in—turn[s] homeward—into all that there is.” This is a clear enunciation of the hypothesis of closure. With the technological turning, being may eventually be thought of in itself, for its own sake—as the event of presencing. The lineage of ideal entities promoted to the rank of principles would reach its end. The turning is only a potential, a hypothesis; compliance with presencing, in both thinking and acting, is only a possibility, an eventuality. Nevertheless the turning allows us to speak of metaphysics as a closed field. Consequently, it allows us to speak of practice as undergoing a transmutation. Because of this transmutation practice can free itself from the principles for whose sake presencing remained “forgotten.”
What, then, is “the technological danger” mentioned in the epigraph above? It is primarily neither the danger of suffocation with which industry threatens life, nor the danger of stultification with which total planification threatens the mind. “The danger is the epoch,” the epochē, the withholding or oblivion of presencing, its obfuscation by the principles. Such obfuscation, hence such danger, is ancient. However, it reaches its greatest opacity in the technological age.
If practical philosophy designates a discipline that is based on a theory, on a first science or even a first critique, then the hypothesis of closure signifies the impossibility of a foundational reflection on human practice. Furthermore, if with the technological turning, the obfuscation (of which ‘disciplinary’ discourse is only one sequel) of presencing as such may reach its end, then the essence of human practice will no longer consist in realizing, applying, deriving prescriptions for action from any norm-providing foundation.
In addition to this function within the history of being, the “turning” plays a more modestly heuristic role: viewed from the contemporary site that it designates, historical epochs appear retrospectively as constituted each by a preponderant referent, that is to say, one ‘weighing more heavily’ for a time upon the life and intelligence of men. As norm-providing in the order of authority (the puma) and norm-providing in the order of intelligibility (the decimal system), the principle spreads open a “clearing”3 in which a given community can live. A historic community is recognizable by the rise of an epochal first. Its principle can be observed in any domain whatsoever: Inca urbanism, the tattoos, the hats, the aide-memoires made of small cords called quipu—each speaks in its own way of the referent that gives coherence to that culture. But not all cultural facts have an equally revelatory value. For Heidegger, the most revealing traces of past historical fields are preserved in philosophical works.4 This priority is not something that goes without saying. It may even seem debatable once it is understood how culturally encompassing such historical fields are, constituting an order of all phenomena present to a community, a manifest order.5 Perhaps philosophical works are themselves like tattoos: executed in order to embellish, heavy with meaning for the clan members, signifying a truth to which one dedicates oneself, but using decidedly formalized figures, and therefore mediated by abstractive spirit. Perhaps the order of an historical field is even less legible in the philosophical works that emanate from it than in tattooed faces. In that case, where is such an order to be read most plainly? It would have to be in a domain where multiple conducts come together; where things, actions, and words join to become accessible to all; at the strategical intersection of thought and practice; where the collectivity is witness to dealings and proceedings while also being their protagonist: in what is at the same time both communal and noticeable, that is, public. The arena where an epochal constellation most obviously displays its principle is the political.6
The political is that domain, that dominium, which most clearly marks an epochal principle’s scope of rule. Each of “Western man’s various fundamental positions among entities”7 produces its own particular economy, which first imposes itself upon entities and then disposes them during its period of sway. A principle’s initial imposition and subsequent disposition together spell out the archē—beginning and commanding—of those fundamental positions. Put differently, the “deed that founds a political state” inaugurates the field of possibles in which that community will live. Such an initial deed thus rules the polity by legitimating its princeps and its principium. The inaugural deed—the founding of the Inca empire by Pachacuti or of modern nations by their founding fathers—decrees the original code that will remain in effect throughout that civilization. It is the visibility of the origin as archē, princeps, and principium in the political domain that is important here. To act in public is to join words and things in action. The modality of epochal presencing becomes obvious when in the midst of his fellow men a man speaks up about a certain state of affairs.
Speaking cannot, by itself, fully reveal the code that rules the way things are present to one another at a given epoch. Such a code stands in league with power. Speech alone, without reference to a state of affairs and without a call to action, constitutes a domain other than the political: taken by itself, it constitutes the region of the text.8 Likewise, if action remains deprived of speech and of reference to other actions, a new domain opens itself: not that of action but of activity with utensils.9 Neither the presence of other actors, nor speech are required for the handling of tools. If other actors join in, the activity becomes work, and if speech makes the work public, it becomes political. The exchange among men, finally, can also occur in a pure state. A true hatred nourishes itself without words and without action on things. It belongs to yet another domain, that of the modalities of ‘being-with’.10 But when these three regions interact, which undoubtedly is the usual case, the principle of an epoch manifests itself. The political is the correlation in broad daylight of speech, of acting, and of a state of affairs. This correlation produces the order into which the code obeyed by an epoch concretely translates itself.
The reversals of history are its crises, but also its reverse, its netherside. As a new strategy of presencing comes upon us, it holds back (epechein) its essence. It remains epochally concealed within the new mode of unconcealment, and we do not quite understand how life is changing. But when acting, things and speech have settled into their new economy, then the reversals, though past, show themselves. It is the owl of Minerva that retrieves them, ex post facto.11 The political appears as the domain in which the fixed order of an era12 reveals itself, while the epochal underside of history is shifting. It is in this hidden layer that the displacements of order occur—of orders, rather, since the genealogy does not allow the phenomenologist to postulate some primordial order prior to the successive or contemporaneous economies of unconcealedness and concealment. Only on the premise of the plurality of historical orders can Heidegger the phenomenological genealogist claim that times of transition uproot political acting.13 The obverse of an epoch is the disposition of the political reticulum, which remains the same for as long as its mode of presencing endures. But the reverse of an epoch is a profound, concealed ordering, the excavation of which requires its own method.14 The decisive hinges, when a new field of intelligibility and life establishes itself, at first go unnoticed quite as, for Heidegger, the decisive philosophers are the least aware of what is given them to think.15 At the thresholds between epochs the orders intermingle and become confused. In retrospect, their confusion proves highly revelatory: at these transitions, when the obvious is troubled, the origin appears different from archē and princeps-principium. These intermittent ways of its being different must be wrested from the origin. To do so, it will not suffice to lay out the archaeology of political forms as they have run their course in the West, although the phenomenological destruction of ontologies does indeed require, as a counterpart, a comparable deconstruction of the regimes and their typic schemes. This deconstruction of the political fields has been carried out elsewhere, and admirably so, by Hannah Arendt.16 But the question we are raising is different: At the moment when “the turning” becomes a historical possibility, how does the origin show itself? “At bottom”17 it appears, paradoxically, as an-archic. Its patent expression, the political, will then be deprived of its foundation.
What had first to be shown was, as I have done, the identity between the manifest order of an epoch and the political. From the point of view of epochal history, the political is characterized less by the exercise of power in a society (the state) or the interaction of the groups that compose it (civil society) than by that society’s code made patent by the genealogist. The political is the surface where the code that rules a historical field becomes visible. This visibility can be described as the emergence from the private: when speech becomes public persuasion instead of merely private expression, when doing becomes action instead of mere activity, and when things become products instead of mere artifacts, then each time the political order is constituted. This threefold emergence in sight happens differently for each epoch. In the Greek polis, such emergence means that one has freed oneself from domestic labor and from its ties based on necessity in order to rally men of equal condition, free men, and accomplish noble deeds, thereby attaining excellence. In Roman society, this emergence into the public occurs through taking power rather than through taking the rostrum (the pulpit for orations which progressively came to serve the display of victories, cf. the columna rostrata), so much so that the relations of domination, confined as they were in Greece to the household, now make up the political fabric itself.18 This fabric, whether Greek or Roman, is always the visible ordering, the eidos or aspect of an epoch.19 The political exhibits the epochal principle.
With the hypothesis of closure, however, the principiai reference as such, the pros hen, withers away.
In the most hidden ground of his essence,
man truly is only when in his way he is like
the rose—without why. We cannot however
pursue this thought any further here.
Der Satz vom Grund20
What is noteworthy in remarks like this is, to be sure, the subversion of teleocratic representations: under the label, here, of life “without why.” But still more noteworthy is perhaps the implied construction of an historical site for such subversion. When is it that man, in his way, can be like the rose? No doubt, he can be so only when the “why” withers. The question “Why?” is as old as metaphysics. It may well be the very question that gave birth to metaphysics. Aristotle answers it by pointing to substance as the ground or foundation for accounts that provide reasons. All instances of being, becoming, and knowing are referred to ousia. To this all-embracing pros hen, to substance as the focal point for each and every occurrence, Heidegger opposes his “without why.”
It seems that “stepping back from the question, Why?”21 entails consequences more extreme than Heidegger would wish. Hence his attempt at mitigation: “We cannot however pursue this thought any further here.” Any further? What is it that is to be avoided? Heidegger is eluding, it seems, a threefold consequence, namely, the contestation of teleocracy, the historical moment where such contesting becomes possible, and its political character. He dodges these issues while at the same time pointing them out to us. Indeed, if the history made of end-assigning principles is to terminate, then his very discovery of epochal history amounts to contesting teleocracy. Furthermore, the moment when that discovery becomes possible is the turning, the era of metaphysical closure. The essentially political character of subverting the representations of end follows from the fact that in and with this turning the pros hen can no longer serve as the chief model for social life. With the turning, a certain way of understanding the political becomes impossible, and another way becomes inevitable. Let us begin with this third point.
With Heidegger, the political has to be described as the manifest constellation of things, actions and speech. This understanding of the public realm differs from the schemes of thought rooted in Attic philosophy. For Heidegger the political is a “site” of interaction. The German word for “site,” Ort, he observes, originally signified the iron point of a lance where everything joins together.22 In the political the force of a principle collects into a transient order all that is phenomenally present.
It is clear how a description of epochs “steps back” from the principles that rule over them. The principles answer the question, Why? Why do people in a given epoch speak about, act upon, suffer from phenomena the way they do? The principles, which are arch-present in their respective epochal orders, provide the reasons for all that is the case, whether lofty or lowly, within that order. But the “step backward” retrogresses from what is present to presencing as such. The site, then, answers instead the question, Where? Where do things, actions and words join within the alētheia—unconceal-ment—of presencing? They join in that particular type of disclosure which is the political. In such an approach to the political, the question of a first that begins and commands public undertakings and of an end that guides and completes them no longer even arises. In its stead arises the question of the difference between what is present and its presencing.
For the ancients, at least according to the way they have been received by the vast majority of their followers, reflection on the political endeavored to translate an ahistorical order, knowable in itself, into public organization, for which that order served as an a priori model and as a criterion for a posteriori legitimation. The categories for understanding the body politic were derived from the analysis of sensible bodies and were transposed into practical discourse from speculative or ‘ontological’ discourse. Aristotle’s Physics, the Grundbuch, “foundational book,”23 of Western philosophy, provided practical philosophy with its elementary vocabulary worked out in the context of movement and its causes. From physics this vocabulary has penetrated all other disciplines.24 To justify such transposition, the scholastics invoke the axiom “acting follows being.”25 Speculative philosophy serves as patron and pattern (both words deriving from pater, father) for practical philosophy. What does practical philosophy inherit from its father, speculative philosophy? Precisely the reference to a first. In order that there be knowledge of the sensible there must be a first to which the multiple can be referred and thus be made true or verified. Likewise, in order that there be action and not merely activities there must be a first that provides action with sense and direction. Political philosophies differ in the way they articulate this relation to the one, pros hen. Without such reference, however, the commonwealth would cease to be accessible to metaphysics. This first, in reference to which the commonwealth becomes conceivable, need not be a supreme power. Aristotle compares the constitution of a principle for action to an army in full retreat, propelled by fear, but in which first one, then several soldiers stop, look to the rear where the enemy is approaching and regain their courage. The entire army does not stop because two or three master their fear, but suddenly it obeys orders again and the activities of each become again the action of all.26 Aristotle views command (archē) imposing its order on the runaways just as he views substance, as archē, imposing its unity upon the accidents. Such is the filiation between ousiology and practical philosophy. Both observations are construed in relation “to the one.” This formal identity between speculative and practical philosophy maintains itself until the rise of what today is called political theory.27 From Plato’s philosopher-king to Machiavelli’s prince, this pros hen reference defines the relations of the many subjects to the one leader as it defines the relations of the many accidents to substance and, in general, of the secondary analogates to prime analogates.28 It is instructive in this regard that Aristotle first analyzed “proportion,” the identity of relation between two terms, in the political context,29 well before the Metaphysics. Political philosophy is not the same, to be sure, when the first to which acting is referred is a man, or a collectivity, or the common good, or duty. But these are all archai, and the point is to notice the structural similarity between what the tradition calls ontology and political philosophy. Political action originates in rule (of a commander or of law), quite as movement originates in cause. The analysis of the political domain can no more do without a principle of legitimation than that of becoming can do without a principle of movement, or that of sensible substance without a principle of unity. Each of these domains is conceived according to the schema of relation to a first; hence the categories of politics are not sui generis, but borrowed from ousiology. The deconstruction of ontology in Heidegger cuts short such transpositions.30
The phenomenological deconstruction of this metaphysics of the body politic31 shifts the question. Heidegger seeks, not to ground but to locate the political. He attempts to think of the political domain as a locus, a site.32 From the point of departure so displaced, the political realm becomes thinkable as the manifestation of an epochal principle. Phenomenological “situating”33—as a gathering, a recollection—of this manifestation allows Heidegger to grasp how such a principle prevails. Objects of science have their site, tools have their site,34 works of art have their site, and so, too, has politics. The site of politics is ‘the political’, which is to say, the public conjunction of things, actions, and speech. The political makes public, literally exposes, the epochal principle which life otherwise obeys tacitly. As long as a principle holds sway, it affects the assemblies of the many as it affects intimate reveries, the deeds and feats of the mighty, as well as the voice of God and the voice of the people. But the site that manifests an epochal order is the political. Nowhere else does what a given community holds highest appear as clearly. Nowhere else does the manner in which it orders all things toward this first, pros hen (Incan decimal system or medieval terrestrial and celestial hierarchies), become accessible in its scope.
To situate or locate the principles that have held sway over our history is to objectify them. Such objectification is a therapeutic exercise. One of its goals is to work through the figures that have ordered Western history as through so many obsessions. To situate or locate these figures is to show how phenomena are phenomena for epochal principles; how our world functions around them. “Everything functions. What is uncanny is that it all functions and that this functioning pushes ahead to further functioning.”35 The task (and the good fortune) of thinking is to extricate itself from this generalized functioning by inquiring into its conditions. Such inquiry becomes possible, and most urgent, at the moment where the functioning reaches its peak and where expectations formerly placed in some first philosophy are now vested, as Heidegger observes, in cybernetics.
“The turning” also designates this step backward that we take in thinking. It is a step that leads from the ontologies of the body politic to the topology of the political site. But if the turning were merely an Erörterung, the methodical step back to the phenomenal Ort, Heidegger’s contesting the principles would amount to little. It would merely indicate the space where a phenomenon unfolds its essence,36 the region where it comes to presence. But it would not call into question the machinalization of presencing, the generalized functioning around the epochal principles. What “the turning” in thinking achieves is precisely this calling into question. Phenomenological thinking asks about the origins of presencing as machine, and it discovers that presencing has had a history. At the juncture of generalized functioning, the understanding of being becomes evident that has brought us where we are. ‘Being has functioned as the imaginary hub legitimating ever wider control by means of epochal principles. It is on these principles represented as ultimate referents, that men have based their actions, their things, and their words. In order to center universal functioning—incipient with the Greek animate kosmos and complete with the modern cybernetic system—some focal point must be constantly available, arch-present. “The turning” is the attempt at de-centering the network of phenomena by seeking its condition not in ultimate grounds, but in the simple event of coming to presence and its historical modalities.
Of the two types of thinking so discriminated by this break—grounding constant presence and complying with presencing as an event—the first is operative within the metaphysical closure, the second, outside that closure. Constant presence of the principles “is due to the destiny” that transmits the epochs encompassed by the closure. To step beyond that closure, then, is to “enter into the event.” “For the thinking within the event of appropriation . . . the [epochal] history of being is at an end.”37 This is the end of indubitably first referents. It is the alternative to generalized functioning. One might say that the word of Nietzsche comes true here: “I belong to those machines that can explode.”38
Heidegger’s discovery, with the Kehre, of the history of presencing does not entail an abandonment of phenomenology as transcendental. The “step backward” from what is ontic to its ontological conditions however reaches structures that are no longer immutable (and which are certainly not subjective). This methodical step retrogresses toward the historical zone of belonging where we are implicated in, ‘folded in’, the phenomena. Their φαίνεσϑαι, appearing or coming forth, remains as the one ultimate condition we belong to as one belongs to one’s ownmost concerns. The ontologies of the body politic theorize about the practical, that is, they consider it and refer it to some ideality. But one thinks correctly only that to which one belongs: the economies of presencing. We belong to the technological era only because, more originally, we belong to the event through which any economical constellation comes about. The step back toward topological phenomenology is thus an “abrupt entry into belonging.”39 It is abrupt since the resistances may suddenly vanish by which the ‘rational animal’, the metaphysical animal, defends itself against polymorphous presencing as against its death. The rational animal, we will hear, has yet to become mortal. Its resistances, its defense mechanisms, have made all epochal principles. With their dissolution, Heideggerian transcendentalism turns historical. When presencing is understood to have a history, Heraclitus is rehabilitated. Under the hypothesis of closure only a certain slice of history is destinal—that which withers away with the entry into the event. But presencing is always historical, dispensing itself like a child. “The dispensation of being: a child that plays. . . . Why does it play, that great child of the world-play seen by Heraclitus? It plays because it plays. The ‘because’ perishes in play. The play is without ‘why.’ ”40
From this perspective, the last of the three points enunciated earlier, the concept of teleocracy, finds its solution. The destiny of presencing is that history where the principia set themselves up as telē, as the ends for man, for his doing and his speculating. However, if being is to be thought of not as constant availability but as presencing, as the play of the event, then it is hostile to any domination by ends (in Aristotle the usage of the verb kratein, “to dominate,” indicates the incipient link between metaphysics of reason or mind and mastery over nature: “mind, in order to dominate, that is, to know, must be free from all admixture”41). The subsumption of things ‘given as stock’ under a principle of order has its opening and its closing moment. The opening moment is Aristotle’s discovery that the pros hen can be applied to the whole of human phenomena and therefore to all branches of philosophy. Man’s central position in the constellation of presencing is the epochal condition for such a sweeping relation-to-one. Aristotle’s theoretical discovery can thus be viewed as a mere prosopopoeia of Socrates’ interest in man: by imposing upon each and every philosophical issue the schema that rightfully pertains only to the Physics, Aristotle has Socrates speak with the voice of a physicist. The Socratic turn toward man, toward the question of the good life, now solidifies as the doctrine of a legitimizing ultimate center of reference. With the Physics, the pros hen becomes systematized. This totalitarian sweep of the relation-to-one exhausts its powers at the closing moment of subsumption under principles. The opening moment and the closing moment of epochal history provide the framework for the genealogy of principles. These are born with the Socratic turn and they wither with the Heideggerian turn. Heidegger is however not alone in having sensed this exhaustion of referential history. Marx and Nietzsche felt it before him. And the French poet René Char writes: “Amont éclate” (Upstream bursts), “Poème pulvérisé” (Pulverized poem), and “Cette part jamais fixée, en nous sommeillante, d’où jaillira DEMAIN LE MULTIPLE” (That part never fixed, asleep in us, from which will spring TOMORROW THE MANIFOLD).42