The basic words are historical. That is not
merely to say that they have various
meanings for various ages, meanings which,
since they are bygone, we survey
historiographically; it is also to say that, in
accordance with the interpretation of them
that comes to prevail, they ground history
now and in the times to come.
Nietzsche: The Will to Power as Art1
It is one of Heidegger’s persistent convictions that the traits of presencing understood as event must be deciphered, in the first place, from the “basic words” (Grundworte) out of which Western philosophy was born. However, a fair exposition of them encounters a crucial difficulty. In each of the six Greek words that will be treated here as “basic,” the meaning lent by Heidegger will have to be separated from the meaning or meanings with which they have been transmitted. The purpose of such demarcation is not to renew philological debates, but only to circumscribe what is at stake in Heidegger’s ‘retrieval’. At stake is not some imaginary remigration to a lost Greek fatherland, but only and exclusively the differentiation of the originary (‘being’) from the original (‘history’). In this chapter, then, I wish to show what becomes of Heidegger’s strategy concretely. I have already described it formally above (Part III) in relation to the deconstruction of our past: the strategy of setting free the one event of appropriation as it differs from the many epochal inceptions.
The Presocratic basic words are few in number. In order to garner from them their ways of katēgorein, of accusing presencing, we must de-nature what the tradition has made of them, alter their received nature, and de-naturalize them, deprive them of their unquestioned citizenship in “representational quarters that have become common for us.”2 Without such an effort of de-naturing and de-naturalizing, how they can “ground history” will never be apparent. And yet, even with that effort we will not be able to conclude: here is what the Greeks meant by eon, phusis, alētheia, logos, hen, nous.3 In order to answer questions pertaining to the ‘history of being’, Heidegger’s retrieval shakes off the representations that have been agglomerated with those words throughout the ages. Do the Grundworte allow us to sort out something formal, all-pervasive in history? If so, in what sense are they fundamental and founding? With what right can it be claimed that they will retain that function even “in the times to come”? In other words, what makes them categories for the entire history of being?
The starting point of a historical deduction of the prospective categories of presencing is therefore the temporal difference, which shows how the ‘originary’ becomes accessible through that ‘original’ from which the course of Western philosophy unfolds. That original is the Greek inception (Anfang). “What is That which enjoins and arranges the fundamental traits of what thereafter unfolded as Western, European thought?”4
Heidegger provides a first answer to that question, and a sweeping one: “The history of being is solely being itself.”5 It is a sweeping answer since, so equated with being, history remains unintelligible in its capacity for novelty, for beginnings, which differ from being. Its equation with being indicates, however, that it is useless to seek the articulation of being anywhere outside of history, for instance, in an unvarying life-world. All categories, then, manifest the historical self-articulation of being as presencing. This is a remote application of Dilthey’s tenet, “Das Leben legt sich selber aus,” life interprets itself, or, better: life lays itself out.6 If this tenet is severed from the double preoccupation with a philosophy of life and a hermeneutic of the human sciences, it suggests what is to be understood by ‘ontology’, namely, the legein (auslegen) tou ontos, of being; the laying-out in which being structures itself. ‘Onto-logy’ designates literally presencing as it articulates itself. This compound word—although coined only in the seventeenth century—divides the prospective categories into two groups, one clustered around the key word on (or the archaic eon), the other around the key word legein. Together, they suggest a pre-metaphysical understanding of ‘ontology’: not the doctrine of a perfection common to all entities, but the self-display of presencing. Auslegen would be a human doing, an act of the mind, only derivatively; and the logos would be discourse only as ‘accusing’ that self-display through basic words and the propositions made of them.
Let us take up, then, these basic words of Heraclitus and Parmenides and try to detect with Heidegger what they revealed, what has become of them subsequently, and what they are capable of revealing once again.
The basic word par excellence, the standard of all metaphysical configurations to follow, is the word ‘being’ itself. Parmenides, historians tell us, was the first to oppose it to the moving multiplicity of things given in experience. He was the one, they add, who forged ‘eon’ as a singulare tantum. He is also said to have opposed the present participle, ‘being’, to things multiple that, as multiple, amount to not-being.7 But if Parmenides indeed discovered a radical difference concerning being, this may not lie in its opposition to not-being. Grammatically, the present participle itself indicates a difference. To say, for example, that a surface is ‘shining’ is to say that it is neither dark nor dull, but, of course, that it shines. In this way, the word participates in the verbal form. At the same time, it designates the surface itself—sea, metal—that shines. The word thus participates also in the nominal form.8 ‘Shining’ means: something that shines, and something that shines. Likewise, ‘being’ means: to be, and a being or entity. When Parmenides precedes the present participle with an article (τ’ ἐόν: a construct that marks the transition from epic to philosophical language) and follows it with the infinitive (ἔμμεναι),9 he sets apart the noun and the verb. He thereby ‘accuses’, makes explicit, the duality contained in the present participle.
Exactly what Parmenides intended in so juxtaposing the nominal participle and the infinitive of the verb ‘to be’ is not easy to tell. It seems safe, however, to say that as participating in the verb, eon contains a motility that has nothing to do with ‘things in motion’. For something ‘to be’, it must occur: enter upon the stage of presence, linger, and then withdraw. The verbal form emphasizes this entrance into presence and the possible exit. In the epic and the tragic traditions such intrinsic motility is sometimes expressly rendered by two verbs, παρει̃ναι and ἀπει̃ναι,10 anwesen and abwesen, “presencing” and “absencing.”11 So understood as occurring, entities come out of concealedness, abide for a lapse of time in the unconcealed, and retire into the concealed. The noun ‘presence’, on the other hand, stresses the fullness, the roundness,12 of availability and accessibility, the givenness of something, its being the case. Eon is the name of that twofold play, presencing on the horizon of possible absencing, and the present entity standing fast in its presence. It is the name for the duality (Zwiefalt), “to be—entity.”13
Neither of the two elements so set apart, the verb ‘to be’ or the noun ‘entity’, points to some maximal entity, some ultimate reason for being. The duality is properly called unconcealment: the emergence from concealedness (which stays with the unconcealed as its shadow) and the selfimposition in unconcealedness (whose light is never epiphanic, never total). It is a duality permeated with time, with movement, with chiaroseuro—but not the duality of the more and the less evident, the more and the less great, powerful, certain, or reliable. Yet the verb-noun duality of eon was soon bent to designate that latter difference between a fundament and its dependents. Parmenides’ discovery prefigures and renders possible what was later represented as the analytical distinctness of on from its ousia, of ens from its entitas,14 or of entities from their beingness (Seiendheit). The difference between a given entity and its self-giving comes to be displaced first as the difference between the given entity and the cause of its givenness, and from there, without much difficulty, as the “separation between a supra-sensory and a sensory world.”15 The progressive slippage of the differential sense on the threshold of classicism has to be understood as a categorial modification.
The first of the categories contains traits that the others will also exhibit, although accentuated in different ways. All prospective categories will prove to reveal the same characteristics of presencing, namely, “unconcealedness, the rising from concealedness, the entry into it, the coming and the going away, the lingering, the gathering, the shining-forth, the resting, the hidden suddenness of possible absencing.”16 But eon remains the leading category of originary presencing since in ‘presencing’ it addresses motility and in ‘oriri’, temporality—the two traits of the ‘verb’ connotation in the participle. Eon remains the hidden guiding category for philosophy, its forgotten space, until the publication of Being and Time.17 Correctly understood, eon means the ensemble of structures that allow one to grasp both being’s genuinely temporal nature and its metaphysical ‘reification’. Seen from the vantage point of eon, metaphysics is properly described by the forgottenness of the intrinsic motility and temporality of being. Through the Aristotelian question, ti to on, and its concomitant restriction of the participle to the noun, this category “has placed subsequent European thinking on its enjoined itinerary.”18
This second category, which has already helped us disengage the originary from the original, emphasizes presencing as self-manifestation. Prior to the physicists’ distinction between things man-made and natural, prior even to the distinction between man and things, phusis designates “what blooms forth of itself (for instance, the blooming of a rose).”19 Phuesthai—dehiscing or, more simply, rising—is the name of originary presencing inasmuch as entities “manifest and maintain [themselves] and endure.”20 It is therefore a second way of addressing the entrance into the play and its moments: arrival, staying, withdrawal. This is the sense in which phusis belongs to the group of categories focused around eon. Moreover, it makes it possible to think time otherwise than as the number of movements according to the before and after in the genesis of entities—otherwise, too, than as memory, intuition, and expectation in the experience of consciousness.21 Arrival, staying, and withdrawal are not three episodes succeeding one another. They are mediations for thinking the identity of the non-identical, the event-like identity of concealing and unconcealing: originary time.
Heidegger s interpretation of the fragment by Heraclitus usually translated as “Nature loves to hide”22 may help clarify this identity. The interpretation proceeds by a number of exclusions. To understand the temporality operative in Heraclitean phusis is to understand the impossibility of confining time to manifest phenomena (facts of ‘nature’ and facts of ‘consciousness’ alike); the impossibility of seeking to account for time as originary, while ignoring the absence, the hiddenness, from which this category bespeaks emergence; the impossibility of some zenithal manifestation without concealment; as well as, lastly, the impossibility of occultation without appeal, of a fall outside time, of forgottenness without return. These exclusions thematize the temporal difference in terms of a twofold absence. The stage of any order of presence is drawn by the peripheral (or ontic) absence of entities excluded from it by an original epochē. But at the center of that stage occurs the (ontological) pull toward absencing which makes for the motility of originary emergence.
What is decisive in the categorial function of phusis is that the selfmanifestation of the variables in an epochal order is nothing but the event of their very conjoining, their coming together, as differing from such an order’s (present or absent) components or constitutents. During the paradigmatic economy23 before the classical age, this “appearing out of hiddenness” received the name phusis.24 From the viewpoint of the fields whose succession makes up the ‘history of being’, phusis is the differential factor in the indefinite multiplicity of ways things enter into the play of interaction. Originary presencing differentiates itself according to synchronically as well as diachronically adjacent territories.25 On Platonic terrain, for example, the self-manifestation of entities in general is narrowed down to the proper ‘aspect’ of this or that specific entity.26
Before Parmenides “uttered eon as the basic word for Western thought,” the basic words were phusis, logos, Moira, Eris, alētheia, hen.27 However, Moira, the ‘destiny’ of the difference between presencing and the present, and Eris, the ‘wrestling’ between arrival and withdrawal, are both names that designate phusis.28 They do not constitute categories since they add no trait of their own.
Later, when Aristotle declares: “Among things that exist, some are by nature (phusei), others by other causes,”29 phusis ceases to be the name of originary presencing and comes to designate one species of substances, namely, those that grow by themselves, opposed to substances moved by another or fabricated. With the Academy, this second category in turn becomes operative subterraneously, not only in Aristotle’s Physics, but also when the Medievals oppose the natural to the supranatural, when the moderns define nature as the thing extended or as “the connection of appearances determining one another with necessity according to universal laws”30 or lastly, when in “the atomic age,” “what presences no longer holds sway, but rather the assault reigns” over nature which has become an energy reserve.31 Phusis is a category of presencing because, from Heraclitus to the technological era, “being lightens, although in various ways, according to the characteristics of shining-forth, of lingering in appearance, of presencing, of opposition and contrariety”32: these are all characteristics pertaining to phusis.
This word has oriented Heidegger most consistently throughout his writings since it addresses the ‘struggle’ at the heart of the difference disclosed by eon, the struggle between truth and untruth. The last century has seen—in Hegel as well as in Nietzsche—concepts of truth in which its affirmation stands in an essential relationship to its negation; concepts of truth as struggle, therefore, which were either dialectical or sharply antidialectical. But what is (perhaps) new with Heidegger is that the struggle between truth and untruth is situated outside of man, on the turf of the economies where dialectics is rendered inoperative because man is only one variable in the play of originary presencing. As a result of that displacement, truth becomes unrecognizable to philosophers. The category eon underscores the difference between the noun and the verb, between an entity and being, or between the present and its emergence from absence, thereby altering all received notions of ‘being’; that of phusis designates presencing as self-manifestation, which amounts to transmuting ‘nature’; whereas that of alētheia places presencing on the battlefield of the economies, de-naturing and de-naturalizing ‘truth’ as well.
The anti-humanistic, categorial sense of this third perspective on presencing can best be shown in connection with the two preceding ones. If presencing differs, on one hand from present entities, as stressed by eon, and on the other hand from absencing, as stressed by phuein, then the negation contained in the privative prefix (a-lētheia) can be seen as differential, too: presencing negates substance-like permanence and it negates absencing. This category thus signals the dual movement in being: the giving of whatever happens to be unconcealed, and the undertow back toward concealment. It shows presencing as binomial, under the double law (nomos) of giving and of taking back. Heidegger describes the play of unconcealment as a violent struggle: the struggle of light against darkness, and then alētheia appears as “clearing”33; the struggle of the lightness of world against the weight of earth, and then alētheia appears as “lightening” or “alleviating”34; the struggle of “the untrembling heart of wellrounded unconcealment” against the “opinions of mortals,” and then alētheia appears as the “free space of the open.”35 But this category is not properly understood if these various figures of struggle are not recognized in their non-human essence. Darkness, the weight, opinions and errors, in short, lēthē in its many guises, are affairs of economies before eventually becoming human affairs. Lēthē belongs to alētheia “not as shadow to light, but rather as the heart of alētheia.”36 To understand the play of presencing-absencing as non-human is to understand the economic notion of alētheia. Such a notion of ‘truth’ has departed from all referents, including the Hegelian concept as reality-creating and Nietzschean life as lie-creating. Inasmuch as it emphasizes the double pull toward presencing and absencing in any economy, the notion of alētheia is a category. It undergirds all subsequent concepts of truth. These concepts, however, are ‘humanistic’: just as, with the beginning of metaphysics, man enters the scene of phenomena and sets himself up as the criterion for phusis—which then designates the sum of everything not produced by his hands—so at a later stage, he institutes himself (immediately, or through the mediation of one supreme entity ‘true in itself’) as the measure and standard for alētheia.
That “reversal in the essence of truth,” making truth henceforth “a mark of human comportment toward entities,”37 occurs with Plato. The transference toward anthropomorphism does not preclude, but rather requires, that truth be identified with a supreme entity, ontos on. For truth to be located in man, a supremely true referent is needed from which man can take his bearings, to which he can assimilate and adjust himself. In its turn, that representation guards and guarantees the truth—the perfection of things—to which the mind can then conform in ‘accurate’ propositions. The various theories of truth that have seen the light of day after the birth of Greek classicism—first and foremost among them, the conformity theory—could develop only to the extent that the conflict between presencing and absencing remained tacitly operative, even though philosophers had ceased addressing it. The aletheiological struggle provides the background for the ‘humanist’ notion of truth as the agreement between a statement and a state of affairs, a notion unfolding from Plato to Aristotle, to Thomas Aquinas, to Descartes, to Nietzsche.38 In the contemporary age where the true coincides with the accuracy or pertinence of technological devices, that is, with appropriate solutions to the problems of mastery over nature, alētheia may well seem to be muted under the yoke of archai of all kinds.39 Nevertheless, “it never fades away.”40 A trait that so continues to determine presencing throughout history, but which has lost access to speech and has in that sense been forgotten, is what I call a category.
Alētheia belongs to the categorial group of eon because it ‘accuses’ the struggle between presencing and absencing, just as eon accuses the difference ‘to be—entities’, and phusis accuses presencing as self-manifestation. With the help of these first three “traits of the history of being,”41 originary being can be gathered from the original reversals as what pervades them.
A second categorial group is constituted around the verb legein. This denotes more than the phenomena in language. In the Homeric tradition, legein primarily signifies ‘laying [something] down’ in its proper place, ‘collecting’, ‘bringing together what lies scattered, like twigs for a fire or pieces of enemy armor before Troy42—in short, ‘gathering’. In its reflective usage it means settling down in order to find rest. Gathering, so understood, is a kind of ordering that encompasses speech and memory only as two particular, even transposed, cases. In general, legein in the epic tradition signifies that one turns toward something, gives it one’s attention and thereby selects it from other entities present, which are not worthy of being so singled out. What is notable, and what Heidegger’s interpretation endeavors to rescue from a more philosophic usage of the term in Heraclitus, is that this diacrisis has nothing to do directly with a distinction between man and things. The thrust of the discriminatory legein opposes a sum of entities, regardless of whether they are human ‘subjects’ or ‘objects’, to the magma of what does not fall under attention.43
The explicit disposition of an ensemble of factors before one’s eyes, their becoming accessible, is, then, ‘logical’ in the original sense. The verb legein addresses the movement through which such a disposition comes about, the movement by which a certain combination of entities is rendered present. The opposition between what is said and what remains unsaid, that is, the more special program of making entities accessible to speech, is only one case, the most eminent, of discerning between matters dealt with and the rest. Speech is only the most explicit ‘gathering’. Essentially, legein means letting come to presence something that previously was present as absent: like the scattered twigs or pieces of armor which, as long as they are still scattered about, are present to the concern of all as to-be-gathered. Even though such collecting is something done by men, and even though since Homer legein of course also signifies ‘saying’ and ‘speaking’, this verb nevertheless stresses the ‘letting’—letting come to presence—over anyone’s act, whether in speech or otherwise.44 In Heraclitus, as read by Heidegger, such coming to presence, such presencing, is not change effected by man. It is an economic event, occurring prior to anything humans can do or say. That priority—of a condition, not of a sequential moment—is best expressed by the middle voice legesthai and perhaps best translated as (intransitive) ‘laying-out’.45
So understood as economic ‘layout’, logos specifies the three preceding categories, that is, eon and its derivatives. Its specific emphasis is on the passage from lēthein, hiding, to alētheuein, showing. It addresses the very movement suggested by the privative prefix of alētheia. In that sense, it can be held that logos and alētheia “are the same”: logos bespeaks the emerging from absence and alētheia, the constellation or conflict of presencing-absencing.46
As the event of an economy’s self-display, logos also provides the condition for what humans can and cannot undertake. It does so by gathering their activities into the finite order of phenomena it discloses. Heidegger sometimes writes “the Logos” (capitalized) to underscore its a priori character and to point out the relation between condition and conditioned. “The Logos preserves man’s obedient belonging to being, that is to say, by its measures it grants [such belonging] and by its measures it simultaneously denies it.”47 Such gauging, which inescapably situates all our doings, is what Heraclitus called homologein: homologizing in the sense of “setting the human logos in its proper relation to the Logos.”48 The hardest apprenticeship is that by which man learns how to hear and heed no imperative other than that relation. There is, then, a practical wisdom that Heidegger seeks to preserve from the Greeks and to prepare anew. It consists in speaking and acting (human legein) by attending solely to the layout of presencing (economic Logos).49 Acting as homologizing is nothing other than acting kata phusin: following the coming-about of phenomena, giving oneself over to the movement of presencing-absencing. Understood that way, the verb homologein may be read as Heidegger’s own last word on the question of acting. Indeed, “human legein is in itself at the same time poiein, ‘leading forth’ ”; now, homologein means to conform human legein to “the Logos as Alētheia as Phusis“—to act, therefore, is to homologize with the aletheiological constellations as they come about.50 This entirely precarious, uncodifiable conformity, which may have been the nomos of the pre-classical Greek oikos, the archaic economy, is erased by subsequent codes of theoretical adequation and practical normalization. Yet the original sense of homo-, keeping the economic layout in all human leadingforth, never ceases, as it were, shining through the erasure. Original wisdom, sophia, never ceases shining through the dogmas of sapiential metaphysics. “The sophon consists in homologein. Proper knowing comes about as the soul’s legein corresponds to ‘the Logos.’ ”51 What, then, does someone do who is properly or authentically knowledgeable? He looks nowhere else for guidelines than to the way things render themselves present in his everyday life, and he complies with the mutations in their presencing. Although there is nothing optional about such compliance since it is the very mark of our finitude, express homologizing occurs “not always, perhaps even only rarely.”52 Originary knowledge is thus something to be gained, conquered by the ‘logical’ measure over hubris, the lack of measure.53 This is a practical conquest, the birth of practical wisdom: “The issue of logic understood more originarily is such a ‘doing’, which is at the same time a ‘letting.’ ”54
More than the categories connected with eon, legein addresses the event character of presencing. Heidegger emphasizes this at the risk of blurring the distinction between originary and original. A case in point is his questionable translation of sophon as “destinal” (geschicklich).55 With this most artificial of his etymological constructs, legein finally signifies not only the originary emergence from concealment but also the incipience of Western thought, its original display in Greece. In this way, Logos would be the name of both the rise from absence into presence and the rise of history. What is blurred are the two senses of proteron, of ‘priority’: according to condition or according to sequence. The historical antecedence of an era would be linked to the structural antecedence of an a priori by a double use, ontic and ontological, of the same category. But such equivocation fogs up the very contours of the categorial. How can the essence of logos be the event of presencing which, as primordial time, makes all other time concepts—among them, history—possible and yet also be “properly destinal”?56 In the first, and indeed genuine, of these two senses legein would be the condition of what, in its second sense, is conditioned. How can this or any category designate the “hidden source” of Western history?57 The deduction establishes the way one fundamental trait, here logos, enters into various successive epochal fields: the way “the logos unfolds,” after Heraclitus, so as to signify the proposition,58 then the cosmic or dialectic order,59 the principle of reason,60 the concept, Begriff, and finally the assault, Angriff, by cybernetics and “logistics,” “that form of planetary organization.”61 Truly innovative in Heidegger, this is the proper usage of a category in tracing the history of being. At each of those stages, logos designates a particular modality in which entities gather together (become phenomenal), emerge from absence, lay themselves out and thereby become accessible. But it is more difficult to follow Heidegger when legein stands not only for such presencing within any given economy or structure, but also for that historical occurrence in which “what still endures” today, namely, “Western destiny,” came about. One hesitates to accuse Heidegger of a category mistake. At the same time, it is difficult to avoid the impression that there is a confusion between a category and its application, between the originary and the original, between the structural and the historical. Legein is a “leading word” when it denotes the presencing of what is present, but not when it connotes any datable reversal in presence.62 We retain this word as the category that focuses on the irruption of unconcealment in concealment, of life in death, of day in night,63 in short, that focuses on presencing as event.
The two final categories, hen and nous, depend directly on the category legein. They are comprehensible only in relation to it. One could superimpose the triad dependent on logos to that dependent on eon so as to illustrate graphically the pre-metaphysical unity of ‘onto-logy’.
As a category of presencing, the Heraclitean hen designates the unity of what logos lays out in presence, the unity of what I am calling an economic field. Understood that way, hen is a deficient category: it does not address the dynamism proper to legein, the dynamism of unconcealment, of lightening, of the play of presencing, of the pull toward absencing. “It is from the essence of logos, thought in this way [as gathering together], that the essence of being is determined as the unifying One: hen.”64
Not that hen in Heraclitus is static itself. It is described as lightning, sun, fire, thunderbolt, the seasons—all so many ways of saying how hen unites or unifies multiple things, ta panta.65 Hen is the global unity of the relations that present entities maintain with one another. As such, it is to be distinguished from the divine hen, Zeus. “Hen is twofold: on one hand, the unifying One in the sense of what is everywhere primal and thereby most universal; on the other hand, the unifying One in the sense of the All-Highest (Zeus).”66 Only the former, the economic One, is a category of presencing. That One seems to be thought in terms of logos when Heraclitus says: “Lightning is the pilot of all things.”67 The One sets all things in place—not as supreme agent, but the way a flash of lightning does. The One is the “self-lighting of being.”68 It is apparent in what way hen can be called non-static: as the sudden rise, ever-new, of the order of things present. It says the phainesthai without also saying the simultaneous kruptesthai. Indeed, the setting in place is ‘one’ as already gathered into the arena of epochally given entities. This category is deficient when compared to the preceding ones because, by itself, it does not address the undertow toward lēthē, hiding or concealing. Alētheia stands only in the background of Heraclitean henology.69
Absencing is also accused by the hen, although not directly, but only in the conjunction of hen with logos and alētheia. One additional sense must therefore be distinguished: not specified by the other categories, hen designates the global order of a field of given entities, but specified by logos and alētheia it designates the unity of presencing-absencing, of unconcealing-concealing, the agonistic unity of giving what is the case and retaining what can economically not be the case. An agonistic notion of the One, then, needs to be added to its economic notion. Hen “in the sense of the oneness of two domains,” the oneness of day and night—that “originary form of the difference”—needs to be added to hen as the “counter-word to ta panta.”70 Neither of these two notions, economic and agonistic, opposes the One to the many as immortal Zeus is opposed to the things that perish. The economic One and the agonistic One unify the manifold in two connected ways. The economic One spells out the manifold in a visible, livable order, intact as it is given, so that “the totality of innerworldly things comes to appear in the hen thought of as sunlight.”71 The agonistic One spells the innerwordly manifold out in its opposition to what does not appear. “As logos, the hen panta is the letting-presence of all that is present.”72 In this second sense, which is properly aletheiological, the hen designates “the reciprocal intimacy of revealing and concealing,”73 their conflict, their jointure, their mutuality, their oneness.
As agonistic, hen is a temporal category. “Time, a child that plays”: time is the simultaneity of phuein and kruptesthai, of breaking forth into presence and of retreating from the sunlight, of letting-be and annihilating,74 “of unconcealing-concealing, of their gathering.”75 This agonistic play—whose historical unfolding is called Austragt76—designates the intrinsic motility of the One. Perhaps it is of this simultaneous arrival in presence and departure toward absence that Heraclitus is reported to have said: panta rhei. In any case, the temporality of presencing-absencing, understood as a play, means that the One founds nothing. It is “without why,” “only play.” “But this ‘only’ is All, the One, the Unique.”77
Lastly, it is easy to show how “hen pervades all of philosophy,”78 how it functions categorially: the One as the most manifest entity in Plato,79 as ultimate and supreme in the Medievals,80 as transcendental apperception in Kant,81 and as the totalitarian reign of technology82 are all so many instances where the categorial signification of hen is verified diachronically. They are also examples illustrating the forgotteness of the agonistic sense of hen: all these later acceptations vary the economic One—when it is not Zeus—whose temporality is constant presence.
This last category is convertible with logos: noein means to ‘heed’ the things gathered together in an order of presence. Furthermore, like legein, noein, too, has traditionally been understood in relation to the human faculty of reasoning: philosophy is ‘noetic’ when it examines that faculty as a receptive organ, and it is ‘logic’ when it examines reason’s acts. But here again a deconstruction of the transmitted representations—from the Aristotelian ἀπαϑὴς νου̃ς to Anglo-Saxon ‘philosophy of mind’—reveals a broader sense: “νοει̃ν heeds presencing.”83
Nous is the only category that makes express reference to man.84 Like all categories, noein addresses presencing from a certain angle. Here, that angle is defined by man’s attending to what is present. To attend, in this sense, is “to notice something present, to take it discerningly before oneself, and to accept it as present.”85 One always notices, takes on, or accepts an entity; noticing, taking on, accepting are verbs that address the way present entities concern man. This category is therefore less originary. Legein “precedes” it. For entities to be at all noticed and accepted, they must first show themselves. Legein “requires” noein.86 Prior to being the faculty coordinated to the intelligible and its grasp, nous is what makes man the “guardian” of the ontological difference between things gathered and their gathering: “When we pay heed to something laid out before us, we heed its being laid out.”87 Noein is to heed the layout (logos) before man. It is presencing for man.
What is ‘convertible’ with the leading category, eon, is then, strictly speaking, the pair legein-noein. Noein indeed leaves absencing and concealment unsaid. “Its essential weight [is] to linger within the unconcealed.”88 The dependence of noein on legein results from the manner in which this category addresses presencing: sub specie hominis. It is not to be construed ‘humanistically’, however, for man is not understood here as an entity endowed with certain attributes; he is characterized by a function: ver-nehmen, “per-ceiving,” or “noting, taking before oneself, accepting.” What is decisive in accounting for this verb as a category is that it is operative only within the domain of whatever happens to be present, unconcealed. Noein turns out to be secondary, it follows upon the other categories, because to heed and attend the present is to endure it as already-there. This category is therefore deficient. Heeding and attending do not bespeak the entire phenomenon of being. Not that any of the verbs by which Heidegger translates noein designate an act or faculty of passive reception, opposable to some act or faculty endowed with spontaneity (an agent intellect, or pure legislative reason). But what is paid heed to, in noein, is the present as given, without reference to its coming-about and its potential going-away. To say that “noein and presencing are one” supposes, then, that noein is tacitly conjoined with legein, which addresses not only laying-out, but also possible laying-away. Noein is a “basic trait” only as so linked to legein.89 Its poverty appears twice: to speak of presencing this category has recourse to man, and to speak of absencing it has recourse to legein. Under that twofold restriction, noein is an economic category. Its specificity as well as the anti-humanism it indirectly entails appear when that double dependence is understood as a single reference to being as originary emerging. In no Presocratic writer does it serve to establish some distinctive property of the human species; if it points toward man, it does so not for the sake of defining his nature but for the sake of confining him to the realm of presence opened up by the event of presencing.
For the entire subsequent history of noein, this relationship remains inverted. Metaphysics is born when nous no longer serves to describe man’s attention to presencing but to label what is distinctive about his own species. The corollary of nous is then the noēton, understood as an entity and as non-sensory.90 The nous itself comes to be conceived as an entity: as that which is capable of representing the intelligible by an “act of elevation.”91 Such is the Platonic moment. Noein means to see the permanent in the changing, it is idein.92 Later in that history, the permanent turns into something to be declared by an act of judgment and a sentence. Nous becomes the “tribunal of reason”93 which submits to laws everything that can appear—laws decreed by that same reason as supreme legislator. When noein passes from ordinary vernehmen to the intellect and to Vernunft as the faculty of a priori laws, it no longer finds the ‘matter’ it addresses among entities in general, but in selected ontic regions: first in the transcendent region, then in the region immanent to the subject. At this last stage, that of Kant, the pre-metaphysical sense of noein—vernehmen, receiving, heeding—is divorced from its metaphysical sense, regulating. (Kant’s very project consists in bridging that gap between receptivity and spontaneity, each understood as the act of one of the mind’s radical faculties; Heidegger however does not read this partial return of noein’s original meaning, in Kant, as an incipient overcoming of its age-old reification.) Transcendental formalism engenders a concept of Vernunft, Heidegger maintains, entirely dependent on logos as the “logic of things.”94 Kant’s guiding concept of nous remains the divine intellect: “the transcendental ideal goes together with the intuitus originarius” of the supreme entity.95 The reification of nous culminates in “technological and scientific rationalization.”96