Only so far as man, ec-sisting in the truth of
being, belongs to being can there come from
being itself the assignment of those
injunctions that must become law and rule
for man. In Greek, to ‘assign’ is νέμειν.
Νόμος is not only the law, but more
originarily the injunction contained in the
dispensation of being. Only this injunction is
capable of inserting man into being.
“Letter on ‘Humanism’ ”1
The nomos or injunction always and everywhere determines the oikos, the abode of man. The eco-nomy of presence has always and everywhere already situated us. Heidegger endeavors to make us belong explicitly to the aletheiological constellations that ‘always already’, immer schon, enclose us. The explication of our site, he trusts, will dissipate the darkness we ourselves have incurred in endowing certain representations with ultimacy. That radical twist he gives to enlightenment is to make us belong to presencing. Such belonging, which is however never achieved once and for all like a state of affairs, is the sole issue for thought. But it is not a given. Just as economic “insertion” repeats and transforms the notion of Geworfenheit, thrownness, in Being and Time, so “belonging,” which designates a doing, repeats and transforms the earlier notion of Entwurf, project. Thrown into the economies, man, according to Heidegger, can retrieve them in taking them as his sole measure for acting. Thinking is thus made dependent upon a practical condition: the injunctions, he says, reach us “only so far” as we “belong” to being. Exactly which relation between antecendent and consequent is implied here?
Thinking is a consequent inasmuch as it does not arise without preparation. On this crucial point—still more than on the two topics of Gelassenheit, ‘releasement’, and of Anwesen understood as a verb, as ‘presencing’—Heidegger belongs to the tradition initiated by Meister Eckhart. At the beginning of one of his sermons on poverty, Meister Eckhart says: “So long as you do not equal this truth about which we now want to speak, you cannot understand me.” And at the close of that same sermon: “Those who cannot understand this speech should not trouble their hearts about it. For, as long as man does not equal this truth, he will not understand this speech.”2 At the end of another sermon, this one on detachment, he repeats: “There are many people who do not understand this. That is not surprising to me. Indeed, whoever wants to understand this has to be very detached and raised above all things.”3
To understand poverty one must be poor. To understand detachment one must be detached. In Heidegger, to understand the turn, one must oneself turn about. To understand authentic temporality, one must exist authentically. To understand the directionality, Sinn, of being, one must become besinnlich, meditative. To understand the fourfold’s play without why, one must live without why. To understand releasement, one must be released. To understand the primordial leap (Ur-sprung) which is the originary, one must take a leap.
Thus a leap is needed in order to experience
properly the belonging together of man and
being. This leap is the abruptness of the
unbridged entry into that belonging which
alone can grant a matching of man and being,
and thus the constellation of the two.
“The Principle of Identity”4
Here is how Heidegger explains these lines: we must “leap away from grounds” (vom Grund abspringen), “let go” (loslassen) of them. This is the practical imperative for understanding the other releasement which is nonhuman and through which presencing tenders its economies. Through our releasement and on its condition alone, we are “let into” (eingelassen) that other releasement—both identical to and different from ours—which is the event of presencing. Only such a practical a priori will allow the phenomenologist to make presencing explicit in its “coming to pass” (an-wesen).5 The relation of antecedent to consequent is, then, not only that of implicit to explicit belonging; it is moreover one of doing to thinking.
The relation between implicit and explicit understanding, hence the characterization of the phenomenological method as explication, is found even in Heidegger’s earlier texts. In What Is Metaphysics? he wrote that in its essence, by its fundamental but implicit process of transcendence, Dasein is always “metaphysical.” The task is to bring into view that essential occurrence. “Going beyond entities occurs in the essence of being-there. But this going beyond is metaphysics itself. . . . Metaphysics is the fundamental occurrence in being-there. It is being-there itself.”6 This notion of metaphysics, not yet related to the history of being and its epochs, designates the movement through which being-there goes beyond itself toward the world. Therefore, being-there is “metaphysical” inasmuch as it always already implicitly transcends itself. Phenomenology wrests this movement, which “belongs to the ‘nature of man,’ ” from ontic obfuscation. As Heideggerian anti-humanism develops, the program of explication only changes its content. After the ‘turn’, the issue to be expressly retrieved is the “belonging together of man and being” as it varies from epoch to epoch. As a method of procedure, this is still an explication.
The practical a priori, when compared to the earlier writings and understood as a procedural antecedent for thinking, contains nothing new either. Indeed, according to Being and Time, on what condition can explication succeed at all? On the condition that man first tear himself from what obfuscates his ‘nature’. And what is it that conceals the transcendence called Dasein? A certain way of behaving, a certain attitudinal way of being in the world—inauthenticity. The practical a priori required for phenomenology is by no means a belated discovery in Heidegger. As to the content, that is, the concrete comportment required a priori, after the turn it bears many names, of which authenticity is no longer one and releasement only the most prominent. Throughout, a mode of thinking is made dependent on a mode of living. Let us see how this dependency is articulated before and after the turn.
The systematic priority of comportment and the determination it imposes on thinking appear clearly in the verdict Heidegger brings against all of his predecessors since Aristotle. According to Being and Time, the classical ontologies, whose insights just as much as their fallacies only reinforced the obfuscation of finite transcendence, spring precisely from inauthentic existence. A rash charge, perhaps, on the part of the young Heidegger, but one whose bearing must not be misunderstood: it indicates first and foremost that the retrieval proper of the being question is bound to fail unless it is preceded by what he then calls an existentiell modification. This requirement is less a summary condemnation of the Ancients than a statement of method unlike almost any ever made by philosophers—apart, doubtless, from Plotinus and Meister Eckhart.
And Socrates. I have said that the quotation from the Sophist that opens Being and Time refers to thaumazein, wonder, without mentioning it by name. The practical a priori enters phenomenological ontology as Heidegger steps from his first to his second query following that exordium. First query: “Do we today have an answer to the question of what we properly mean by the word ‘being? Not at all.” This query concerns something to be known or thought, an issue for philosophy. It meets with ignorance. Second query: “Are we today even perplexed at our inability to understand the expression ‘to be’? Not at all.”7 This query is no longer cognitive, concerning knowledge and ignorance. It is not even philosophical anymore. In it something entirely different is demanded, the response to which must precede the very question of what we mean by the verb ‘to be’ From the outset of Being and Time, Heidegger s strategy consists in awakening first (vordem) a pre-philosophical perplexity and only then raising the question of the meaning of being. A practical modification of existence has systematic priority over its ‘philosophical’ analysis. First comes an appropriation of existentiell possibilities, then existential ontology. More than a priority of expediency is at stake in this order of precedence. It goes to the heart of what Heidegger has to say about praxis. His usage of ‘authentic’, eigentlich, and ‘inauthentic’, uneigentlich, he says, must be understood “strictly terminologically.”8 To exist authentically then means to act with regard to my being in the way that is most proper (eigen) to me; to seize my being as it is concretely mine. Inauthenticity means acting with regard to my being in a way that is not proper to me; a way which follows that of everyone else.9 Since these two possible modifications of being-there determine all the existentials, their differentiation remains operative throughout the fundamental analytic (Part One of Being and Time). However, it becomes comprehensible as such only with the repetition or retrieval carried out in Part Two, “Being-There and Temporality.” Authenticity and inauthenticity are modifications of temporality. In their opposition, these terms “signify the ‘ecstatic’ relation, hitherto hidden from philosophy, between the essence of man and the truth of being.”10 To exist ‘properly’ is to make the temporal possiblity of anticipatory resolution (vorlaufende Entschlossenheit) one’s ‘own’. Not to exist properly is to reify the past in forgottenness, the present in retentional presentation, and the future in expectation.
Why call the practical a priori a priority of method? This must not be taken to mean that the temporal character of the existentiell modifications, authenticity and inauthenticity, amount to mere stages in reflection.11 That would be saying too little. The hodos of the ‘method’ (or the cedere, ‘going’, in the ‘procedure’) is one that leads from a way of living to a way of thinking. Inauthentic existence produces ontologies that remain forgetful of being. It follows by implication that the sense of being can become an issue only in an authentic existence. It follows moreover that to satisfy the practical a priori it is not sufficient to write books about ‘Being’. Nor can that a priori be satisfied through some individual practice. If Heidegger is able to elicit a hint of the being question from almost any text, read separately, in the history of metaphysics, the charge against the very project of philosophy, the project of securing foundations, remains intact: it amounts to a quest for one preeminently solid entity. Philosophers have therefore consistently and, as it were, professionally “passed over” the problem of inauthenticity,12 and the being question has fallen into oblivion. The path of our history has been one of errancy, of a ‘methodical’ errancy that has spared and spares no one. But that errancy has resulted from an error on an entirely different hodos, path, which leads from life to thinking: the error that Nietzsche called “the absurd overestimation of consciousness,”13 the methodical retrenchment of life or of praxis so that mind may speak solely to mind.
Far from ceasing to be operational after the turn, the requisite analogue to authenticity for thinking divests itself of any existentialist overtones. It grows civilization-wide as it finds its place in the phenomenology of the economies.14 It undergoes a threefold transmutation: (1) the mode of practice required for the ‘thought of being’ (Seinsdenken) is more and more expressly linked to the withering away of the principles; (2) the ‘proper’, or an existent’s ‘own’, loses its paradigmatic role for behavior; (3) the undeniably individualistic implications of the practical a priori as conceived before the turn recede behind political ones. As economic, non-appropriative, and political “the terms ‘authenticity’ and ‘inauthenticity’, used in a preliminary fashion, do not signify any moral or existentiell discrimination.”15 Ereignis, the successor to Eigentlichkeit, makes thinking depend on a type of acting, which is in that sense neither moral, that is, grounded on an ought, nor existentiell, grounded on my own potential.
1. The practice required for thinking presencing is dictated by the withering of the epochal principles. Their self-emptying entails an imperative—releasement. “We can say ‘yes’ to the unavoidable use of technical devices, and we can at the same time say ‘no’ inasmuch as we deny them the right to lay exclusive claim on us and thereby distort, embroil, and finally obliterate our being (Wesen).”16 What is noteworthy in this description of the practical a priori is first that the imperative springs up against modern technological devices. Releasement thus has its hour in history. That hour is the moment when objects, as ‘devices’, have achieved their strongest grip on us, the moment when constant presence has become technological and hence hegemonic. It is furthermore noteworthy that they lay their exclusive claim on Wesen (‘essential unfolding’), which is another word for originary presencing in Heidegger. The constant availability in which technology secures all things as objects and devices overdetermines the event of a thing’s entering its world, the event of presencing. Objects are forced into constant presence opposite a subject. This split world turns deadly with the confrontation between ‘devices’ and Wesen. Technology, the ultimate figure of the subject-object split, tends to distort, embroil and obliterate the one process the Greeks thought of as phuesthai, coming to presence. To say both Yes and No to technology therefore means to heed the common phenomological origin of technical objects and of men who have become technical subjects. In this return to the origin as presencing, “our relation to the technological world will become wonderfully simple and still,” and the objects or devices come to “rest in themselves.”17 The confrontational dualism can be set to rest only by laying bare the essence of the conflict, by ‘essential’ thinking. This has nothing to do with a supposed reconciliation of man with nature, but much to do with a reconciliation of action to the chaotic fluctuations in presencing. The twofold rest of ‘devices’ remembered as things and of men remembered as mortals is thinkable only when constant presence, or the very principle of constancy, has forfeited its prestige. If, as has been held since Aristotle, ‘rest’ signifies the full possession of one s own, and if on the other hand for Heidegger a ‘thing’ has no substrate to rest on, then this repose is far from immobility and inaction. As born from a simultaneous Yes and No, as non-cooptable, therefore, for any form of full possession, it is perhaps not much of a repose at all.
2. This points to the second transmutation of the practical a priori after the turn. If a doing is required to prepare “the belonging together of man and being,”18 and if such a requirement is indeed reminiscent of the earlier call for authenticity, Eigentlichkeit, the issue is nevertheless taken out of the context in which eigen in any way designates the proper. It is not an issue of owning or appropriating one’s self or one’s other, nor of possessing being. It must be recalled that in the event, Ereignis, appropriation is permeated with expropriation. Not only is being to be understood as a process, man, too, as the ‘mortal’, is desubstantialized. And if, as has been shown, belonging (gehören) is a matter of hearing (hören), hence of listening and complying, then Heidegger, with this a priori, is breaking the old concurrence between ϑεωϱει̃ν and ϰατέχειν, beholding and holding.
3. Lastly, the practice required to think presencing is non-individual. I have said that the term Dasein, in Heidegger’s writings after the turn, designates a people or community rather than the self. I have also said that the political realm is phenomenally constituted by the public interchange of words, things and actions. Now historical being-there—Greek, Latin, Medieval, modern, contemporary ‘atomic’—must each time learn the practice destined to it. It will correspond explicitly to its destiny solely on the condition of such a collective apprenticeship. Heidegger is quite clear about this public dimension of the practical a priori. He spells it out for each of the three factors, words, things, and actions.
We have yet to learn the syntax of the words corresponding to the destinal fold that is our own. Heidegger speaks cautiously, questioningly, of the language through which we would be wholly the inhabitants of our transitional era: “Each in its way, our Western languages are languages of metaphysical thinking. It must remain an open question whether the essence of the occidental languages is metaphysical in itself and thus stamped once and for all by onto-theo-logy, or whether these languages offer other possibilities of utterance.”19 If such different utterances are possible, they will free natural language from onto-theo-logy. Language, to be emancipated, will have to rid itself of the grammar dictated by metaphysics. The tongue to be learned would then have to extricate itself from that fundamental pros hen, the subject-predicate attribution. If we knew how to speak in such a way as to correspond to the Janus economy, an inconstancy as unsettling as the decline of the epochal principles would creep into words. Such inconstancy would give that decline its very extension and comprehension. The apprenticeship that may render our relation to technology ‘simple and still’ will then, be it only for its linguistic nature, necessarily be collective. Responding and corresponding to the essence of technology cannot be an individual affair. How could a natural language be private? If, in its essence, technology is still principiai in stature but already anarchic in germ, how could words free themselves from their metaphysical order without subverting the most basic speech patterns of our civilization as it discovers itself relocated, by that germinal power, outside of onto-theo-logy? And if, in order to experience the ‘limits’ of technology, our being-there is to open itself up to that bifrontal essence, how could Dasein in any way designate the individual subject?20 That it is still impossible for us to string words together in an order other than pros hen, should say something about the time it may take to free the post-modern economy of any principial overdetermination, about the time necessary to prepare an a-principial economy. Still more, it might be asked whether we are even prepared to learn the language of our own time, an anti-principial Ianguage, a double-talk as bifrontal as the anarchy principle. According to Heidegger, a transference, a setting-across, a translation is necessary for us even to enter the constellation of our own age. We must über-setzen toward the economy of the twentieth century the way one sets over to another shore.21 In general, “in a given epoch of the destiny of being, an essential translation corresponds each time to the way a language speaks within that destiny.”22 Either we learn to speak as the contemporary economy of presence speaks to us, or what is propitious in advanced technology will be lost. To put it negatively: either we unlearn the pros hen grammar, or the technological grip will be fatal for us. Either we listen and hear how the guiding word of Western philosophy, eon, speaks to us today, or the accumulation of onta will consolidate their assault (Andrang). “Whether or not we will get beyond talking about technology and attain a relationship to its essence may well depend on this ‘either-or’. Indeed, we must first of all respond to the essence of technology in order to ask afterward whether and how man can master it.”23 Here, the either-or is a matter of hearing and speaking: hearing the injunctions of the age of closure or not hearing them; unlearning the grammar of the pros hen or not unlearning it. The question is one of syntax. There can be nothing private about that.
Especially with regard to poetry, Heidegger develops the conditions for our entry into destinal language. Through the “poematic project of truth” a historically given community responds to the potential “thrown toward” it.24 Its every ‘project’ (Entwurf) corresponds to that economic ‘casting forth’ (Zuwurf). In Heidegger’s writings on language, just as in those on deconstruction, ‘being thrown’ prevails over ‘projecting’. For example: “To follow the essential unfolding of language, to say of it what is its own, requires a transformation of language that we can neither compel nor invent.” This is because we are thrown into a tongue and more generally, languages, which are “determined by destiny,” historical. When measured against that thrownness (Geworfenheit), any project is of little account: “At the very most we can perhaps prepare, to a slight extent, the transformation of our relationship to language.”25 What is to be retained is the fact that the bifocal essence of technology dictates the possibility of a double way of speaking from which, eventually, a simpler speech may be born, one freed of the grammar that has made the West. But these transitions will be public or they will be nothing at all.
The things unfolded by the destinai fold which is ours demand to be freed, too—freed from the principiai reign that has turned them into objects and, more recently, devices. Objects must yet become things.26 On what condition? To be sure, that we ‘let them be’. But is this, can this be, an individual, private, ‘subjective’ affair? How could their setting-free be subjective if it consists precisely in abolishing the subject-object cleavage? And how could releasement be a purely individual task if, on the threshold of the metaphysical closure, it signifies the struggle against epochal principies? Once these are recognized as obstacles to aletheiological freedom, the way in which liberation and releasement are interconnected becomes more apparent: for objects to become things again, a loosening of the reifying hold is necessary on an economic scale. The thingness of things can only be restored economy-wide, coextensively with the concrete community placed under the principle of objectivity. To set presencing free can in no respect amount to some inward attitude. If ‘existence’ pertains to the individual, then releasement has nothing ‘existentiell’ about it. That term, like its correlative, authenticity, is “obsolete”27 in the later Heidegger inasmuch as neither denotes the public realm in which alone things can at all be freed from the principle of objectivity. Since this is none other than the principle of representation, of adaequatio understood as subjectivization and subjection, one may also say that objects will become things on the sole condition of a shift away from subjectivity toward the network of phenomenal interconnectedness that situates subject and object alike. The principle of subjectivity—of which that of objectivity is but a counterpart—can be fought only in public, in political life. Unless the ‘world’ to which ‘things’ belong is so freed from all references to the subject as the last epochal principle, our century’s economic turn will never become explicit or be recovered as such. A political a priori determines thinking. Anarchic praxis restores the thing beneath the object, presencing beneath principles, and truth as freedom beneath truth as conformation.
Actions provide the third constituent of the political as a phenomenal region. I have distinguished between action in the strict sense, πϱα̃ξις (including ποίησις) in opposition to ϑεωϱία, and action in the broad sense. This latter kind is of the same essence as thinking—the thinking which is ‘other’ than theory. The ‘other’ politics corresponding to it would arise from a syntax that shatters the preeminence of the pros hen in the order of words; from things entering the world out of themselves, not represented; and from actions receiving their mens\uration from the economic injunctions alone. To be sure, thinking enjoys a priority over action: it is thinking that receives, hears, reads, gathers, unfolds the injunctions, notably the withering away of the principles. But there is a priority, too, that action enjoys over thinking. The apprenticeship of anti-principial, and eventually a-principial actions (in the narrow sense) is requisite for thinking as ‘highest acting’. It is impossible to receive, hear, read, gather, unfold the anarchic economy as long as actions—assimilating to that economy, turning into a groundless play without why—do not precede thinking.
In any given age, everyone has a preliminary knowledge of what it is economically possible to do. This constitutes the practical character of preunderstanding, which Heidegger descried before discovering its historical character. Such knowledge comes to us primarily from our hands, for example, from the tools epochally at our disposal. No one in the Stone Age dreams of a stainless steel axe nor, conversely, of a wooden plough in the age of mechanized agriculture. No one in the Greek polis imagines organized lobbying in a federal legislature, nor is direct deliberation feasible in a mass democracy. The implicit understanding of an economy springs from what we make and do. The philosophical effort to render that understanding explicit will remain paralyzed unless preceded by poietic, political-practical modifications. The explicitation of what is economically given cannot succeed through pure acts of consciousness. This is not to say, with Sartre, that “man is what he does,” but rather that man thinks as he acts (and not, as the metaphysics of legislative reason would have it, that man ought to act as he thinks). In Being and Time, Heidegger had stated: “Without an existentiell understanding all analysis of existentiality will remain groundless [bodenlos].”28 This version of the practical a priori is still a hesitant one since the ‘existentiell’ remains a concern of the understanding. Similarly, without practical understanding, without practice, any analysis of the economies proceeds in a vacuum. The unhesitant version of the practical a priori makes it clear that without an-archic praxis the withering away of the principles is bound to remain ‘only theory’.
If in Being and Time authenticity, as the existentiell condition of thinking, could still admit of individualistic implications, this is no longer the case in the later writings. Releasement, the key concept of the second period in this regard, dispels such implications. Its practice distorts (this is one literal sense of verwinden) the technology that stamps the entire atomic age. Now, if in the struggle against the technological principle, we can “say ‘yes’ to the unavoidable use of technical devices and at the same time say ‘no,’ ” then it is already impossible to take releasement as an inner attitude chosen in heroic isolation. It must be the attitude of an age. Otherwise, the anti-principial struggle Heidegger calls for would be quixotic. But the supersession of subjectivist individualism becomes unmistakable in the third period of his writings. From there it has to be read backward. If the principles are to yield, and entry into the event is to occur, unprincipled praxis will either claim everyone that lives in the economy of transition or it will be nothing at all. That is what is meant when ontological anarchy is called a potential. Due to the encompassing character of any destinai or historical ‘stamp’ of presence, a challenge to the principles by marginal, individual actions cannot, by right, transfer us into the economy of Ereignis. The scope of the imperative that requires us to “open ourselves to the injunction”29 is therefore societal. The ‘stamps’ situate everyone, without possible exception. Much more than intellectual fads is at stake when holders of various -isms, inherited from the past, discover themselves more or less suddenly incapable of reaching statements and move in circles among quotes. It is impossible simply to say No to one’s economy. The mere negation of a fundamental position only “throws the negator off the path.”30 The same holds for the praxis that renders the deterioration of the epochal stamps explicit: sooner or later it must become the praxis of everyone. What Heidegger says about the novelty of an artwork, namely, that it re-situates us, displaces us, and thus henceforth suspends all current actions, applies eminently to economic novelty: “To follow this displacement means to transform our ordinary relations to the world and the earth and henceforth to suspend all current doing.”31
At each stage, then, Heidegger’s writings contain allusions to a practical a priori required for thinking, although these are hardly ever developed for their own sake. Perhaps Heraclitus’s “child who plays,”32 Meister Eckhart’s “life without why,”33 Nietzsche’s “eternal return” as it “eternalizes the absence of any final goal”34 are all so many prefigurations of the “existentiell ground” for thinking. One would especially like Heidegger to have been more specific about the precise actions that are to allow for an entry into the event. It is however useless to examine his texts for further hints. Of Being and Time an interpreter like Marcuse could still say that “this philosophy attains its supreme meaning as authentic practical science.”35 Confronted with the later writings, the same Marcuse came to indict the “fake concreteness” of the entire Heideggerian enterprise.36 But it is one thing to show the deterioration of all foundations for answering the question, What is to be done? and to show the conditions that result for our lives; it is something else to draft a program of action or actions. From the “destruction of ontologies” through the “eschatology of being,” to “the entry into the event,”37 Heidegger tackles the first task, leaving the second to others.
The practical a priori for understanding fully that deterioration and its virtualities inverts the sequence of condition and conditioned in which the tradition has placed thinking and acting. Once a practical consequence of standards is established for it speculatively, action turns into a condition that needs to be fulfilled in concreto for thought—the thought of being—to be at all possible. The transcendental inversion does not rehabilitate humanism, this time under a practical guise. The economies of presence unfold with little human control. Thinking may choose to remain enfolded in its given fold, without raising a question about it, the question of being. What it cannot choose is to dis-imply itself from its historical ply. But it can free itself from mute implication. It can begin to question. In Heidegger, the conditions for so emerging from the slumber of thoughtlessness are that action take explicit aim at all principiai vestiges, that it challenge and subvert their sway, and that this subversion be collective.
We are still far from thinking the essence of
action decisively enough.
“Letter on ‘Humanism’ ”38
There is a common thesis concerning the problem of the will in Heidegger that can be summarized in three steps. (1) In Being and Time, the will is rooted phenomenally in care, and therefore in Dasein’s existential openness. The voluntary and the involuntary, then, are opposable as the authentic is to the inauthentic.39 In this view the phenomenon of the will is linked to the existential determination called resoluteness or resolve. When being-there is authentically resolved it wills something: its own (eigen) possibilities. Its Eigentlichkeit, authenticity, consists in making these resolutely its own. In that way, the will is not a faculty but a phenomenon concomittant with the modifications through which I attain my ownmost, most originary truth. (2) But on the other hand, still according to that opinio communis, Heidegger deconstructs the very notions of truth that might function as regulative measures for resoluteness, namely, its normative notions. Truth deconstructed—unconcealment—yields no standards, no guide for the possible impulses of the will. These impulses shoot forth blindly, as it were, into the dark. Hence a certain underlying decisionism40 in the young Heidegger. (3) After the ‘turn’, this decisionism would lapse into its contrary, ‘letting-be’. Heidegger would no longer recommend that we will resolutely so as to exist authentically, but that we ‘will not to will’ so as to unlearn objectivation, representation, prehension—the entire mechanism of essentially technological thinking. The topical shift from resoluteness to releasement would, it may be added, not have occurred without difficulty. Thus in the essay “The Origin of the Work of Art’’ (1935), the two themes, voluntarist and anti-voluntarist, would curiously coexist, so much so that more than twenty years later, Heidegger would feel obliged to append an explanatory supplement to that essay. He would then strive, if somewhat tortuously, to reconcile the opposition between ‘willing’ and ‘letting’ by tracing both back to “existing man’s ecstatic commitment to the unconcealment of being.”41 That he should have taken the trouble to state several times that “the resoluteness thought of in Being and Time is not decided action,”42 would indicate precisely how artificial the retrospective harmonization of these two positions remains, how disturbing a problem it raised for him. In short, “the turn” would be accompanied by an “abdication of this will, of this self-assertion in the face of Being.”43
All this may be plausible. But what that common opinion does not say is more telling with regard to action as the condition for thinking than what it does say.
To begin with the most elementary, it says nothing about the word Entscheidung, decision, itself. The German, like the English, derives from a verb that means ‘to separate’, ‘cut’. To separate and cut what? “Thinking has not yet risen out of the separation (Scheidung) between the metaphysical being question, which inquires into the being of entities, and that question which inquires more originally into the truth of being.”44 The separation here sets apart two types of questions. The first is “metaphysical,” the second no longer is. It is therefore also a separation between two eras. These lines say clearly enough that questions invented by man do not decide anything essential at all; that two historical questions set themselves up as separate even before he can intervene; in other words, that the decision, understood as a separation, a cut, a break, is economic. It cuts out an age, a historical order of presence, a world. “The world is that opening which unlocks the broad tracks of the simple and essential decisions in the destiny of a historical people.”45 A decision is, then, first of all, a matter of collective destiny. It is the disjunction between two economic eras.
Every essential decision is not only economic, it is also aletheiological. “The world is the lighting of the tracks of the essential injunctions with which all decision complies. Every decision, however, bases itself on something unmastered, hidden, confusing; otherwise it would never be a decision.”46 An economic decision contains something hidden and confusing, inasmuch as every pre-understanding is confused and dark. But such a decision is also essential because it ‘lights’ concealedness, wrests ‘world’ from ‘earth’, alētheia from lēthē, and thereby opens the space where human decisions can occur at all and where understanding can articulate pre-understanding. A constellation of truth determines the tracks—the variables that structure an age—through which the economic injunctions reach us. Concretely, for example, the decision or disjunction from which the post-modern age was born (experienced by Marx in 1845, by Nietzsche in 1881, and by Heidegger in 1930) established technological breakt-hroughs, the very idea of progress—not in morality (Kant), but in the techniques of mastery—as the conveyer for our age of what is true and false, to be done and not to be done.47 One could say that these injunctions produce the concrete and structured order of presencing-absencing, the aletheiological order that marks an age. Here, Heidegger designates that order as the set of ‘tracks’ (Bahnen) according to which a historical cut-off structures a given economy. The concept of ‘track’ underscores the systemic nature of alētheia.
As aletheiological and therefore systemic, any essential decision is necessarily non-human. Here are a few examples of what Heidegger calls historically “decisive”: “fundamental words” such as “truth, beauty, being, art, knowledge, history, freedom”48; “a transformed fundamental position”49; “constructive thinking”50; “the thought of the eternal return.”51 In each of these cases an economically disjunctive decision precedes all possible volitional decisions. The relation between the two types of decision, conditioning and conditioned, appears best in the following example: “For Marx it has been decided in advance that man and only man (and nothing besides) is the issue. Whence has this been decided? How? By what right? By what authority?—These questions can be answered only by going back to the history of metaphysics.”52 Hence philosophical humanism itself is also the product of a prior decision which is economic, not human.
What I am calling economic decisions here, those which situate each and every human decision, Hannah Arendt described in the following terms: “We may very well stand at one of these decisive turning points of history that separate whole eras from each other. For contemporaries entangled, as we are, in the inexorable demands of daily life, the dividing lines between eras may be hardly visible when they are crossed; only after people stumble over them do the lines grow into walls which irretrievably shut off the past.”53
Conditioning decisions set apart networks of interaction. Thereby they both open up and restrict all possible voluntary, conditioned, decisions. They enjoin or tell us (‘condition’ stems from dicere, to say) what is essential in our age. As indicated in the first line of the “Letter on ‘Humanism’ ” cited in the epigraph above, decisive thinking is therefore essential thinking: “We are still far from thinking the essence of action decisively enough.” If the essence of action consists in its compliance with the plies in the history of being, with the economic decisions, then voluntary action can or cannot be essential. At the turn which sets apart the modern and the post-modern regularities, this means that action can choose to follow or not to follow the disjunction that seems to be growing into walls today. It can renounce the principles and adhere solely to the economic transmutations. This kind of action alone, possible only in the age of closure, would be essential, originary. “Are we in our being-there historically at the origin?” This is, Heidegger adds, a question of “comportment,” of “an eitheror and its decision.”54 The step back from the conditioned to the condition is clear. Just as thrownness precedes every project, so an essential, disjunctive, historical-destinal, economic, aletheiological, non-human, systemic decision precedes all human or voluntary decisions, all comportment. These decisive conditions are always “confusedly” pre-understood by us, and thus make every understanding and every deciding possible. Heidegger also calls the context-setting decision a crisis. “The thought [of the eternal return] must not only be thought each time out of an individual’s creative moment of decision, it belongs to life itself: it constitutes a historical decision—a crisis.”55 The ‘critical’ decisions, in that sense, account for the changing conditions of life itself. They differ from the ‘creative’ decisions as life differs from any momentary act. In Nietzsche all these terms are obviously heavily overdetermined. In Heidegger, the concept of decision is primarily topological. A crisis assigns us our site. The economic disjunctions that we may espouse or not espouse in praxis situate that praxis. It is this economic, topological, significance in Heidegger’s usage of Entscheidung and related terms that makes the charge of decisionism difficult to sustain.
The will can follow the economic flow or not follow it, observe its own context or decontextualize itself. If, as has been shown, the last epochal principle, whose efficacy culminates in technology, is the subject reduplicating itself as will to will—if for our age being is willing—then the will, too, is primarily contextual and only secondarily behavioral. What does it mean, in our age of closure, to follow the economic modifications? It can only mean to follow the context-setting will in its epochal decline, to dismiss it as the last metaphysical stamp, as the being of entities, as the mark of our age. It means to “renounce willing voluntarily.’’ Such is the practical condition for us to be, “in our being-there, historically, at the origin.’’ It consists in saying: “I will non-willing.”56 This twofold notion of the will, economic and behavioral, shows once again the practical a priori for thinking: revoking the epochal principles.
But what would uncompliant comportment be, the one that abstracts itself from its economic context and aspires to consolidate the rule of principles? Is it even possible not to espouse the historical decisions as defining our condition? Hannah Arendt is probably not mistaken when she evokes Anaximander’s adikia, injustice, in this regard. Heiddeger understands dikē, justice, as a harmony in presencing, as the jointure (Fuge) between arrival and withdrawal. Adikia, then, is disjointure. “Disjointure means that whatever lingers awhile becomes set on fixing itself in its stay, in the sense of pure persistence in duration.” The ‘unjust’ entity disjoins itself from the finite flow of absencing-presencing-absencing and “holds fast to the assertion of its stay.”57 The present insists on its presence, consolidates it, persists against absence. It con-sists with other entities against the movement of originary arrival, which is ever new and conjoined with departure. This essence of the will by which it is set on constant presence stands in agreement with conceptual, i.e., ‘grasping’ thought, but it is opposed to ‘thinking’ in the sense of the last transitional category. When, in the closing age of philosophy, the human will becomes absolute, willing nothing but itself, it shows forth its insurrectional nature. “The will acts like ‘a kind of coup d’état,’ ” Hannah Arendt wrote.58 It is that force which seeks to establish the self as permanent and time as lasting.59 If ‘justice’ means for each thing to arrive and depart in accordance with the economies, ‘will’ is the name for rebellion against that justice. Put in a simple correlation: constant presence is the very issue of willing, just as the event of presencing is the very issue of thinking. Willing and thinking are thus understood not as faculties of the mind, but as modalities of disclosing the world. If one recalls, now, that it is the epochal principles that claim constant presence most of all, it becomes obvious, too, that principial acting is hubris. The Greek word hubris stems from huper, ‘beyond’, ‘across’. Principial acting is hubristic since it oversteps our finite condition expressed in the temporal difference between presence and presencing.
Heidegger seeks a counter-will to that absolute, rebellious, will. The mere possibility of “willing not to will” places action before the alternative either to let itself be carried by the economies or to rebel against them, thereby immobilizing the event of presencing on a fictitious mainstay. Of the two options, ecstatic transport or enstatic support, only the former is thoughtful. Voluntary decisions either abandon themselves to the epoch-making disjunctive decisions or they harden themselves against those decisions. Such hardening is the source of all thoughtlessness. Both Hölderlin and Nietzsche dared to ‘let’—to abandon—themselves to the movement of transition in which the modern age, and perhaps the metaphysical age, comes to an end. However, the poet’s craft yields greater lucidity than the thinker’s. Unlike Hölderlin, Nietzsche “was not capable of discerning the historical rootedness of the metaphysical question concerning truth in general nor of his own decisions in particular.”60 Nietzsche’s own decisions remain entirely, if unsuspectingly, inscribed within that other decision, the “decision not made by us but which, as the history of being, is made for our history by being itself.” With Nietzsche, metaphysics “took a decisive turn toward the fulfillment of its essence.”61 This instantiates once more the poverty of the transitional thinkers: Nietzsche remained necessarily ignorant of the shift that articulated itself through him. But his Mitdenken, the thinking accompanying that shift, is telling. It reveals that practical decisions can approach, as it were, asymptotically, the historical decision. In that lies the advantage of transitional ages, when practical releasement becomes a concrete possibility; when action can retain as its sole measure the varying constellations of alētheia; when it is possible to will non-willing because for an entire civilization the hubris of principles has lost its credibility.
The concept of decision in Heidegger entails several answers to the problem of the will. (1) In the primary, essential sense, a decision is the historical separation, cut-off, or crisis between two economies of presence, their severance. The reversals within metaphysical history as well as the turn beyond metaphysics are such aletheiological, non-human decisions. (2) The contemporary crisis sets apart the economy of the final metaphysical principle, the will to will, and a possible economy, one deprived of any standard-setting principle. Economically speaking, the turn is that decision in which the will is given up as the increasingly exclusive stamp of Western civilization. (3) Individual and collective decisions, our voluntary acts, are always inscribed within the horizon of economic decisions. Humanity is ‘used’, ‘utilized’ (chreōn, Anaximander), for and by these trenchant incursions. (4) Within the transient horizon thus carved out, action is faced with an either-or: voluntary acts comply with economical transitions or they “hold fast to the assertion of their stay.” The truly ultimate products of such holding-fast are the epochal principles. In temporal terms, that either-or means that being is experienced as constant presence or as event-like presencing. (5) The response to this either-or gives rise to ‘philosophy’ or to ‘thinking’ respectively. The willful quest for constant presence, then, is to be relinquished if, at the end of philosophy, the issue for thinking is event-like presencing. To will non-willing is the practical condition for “thinking of being.”
Thinking springs from two forebears, two types of conditions. Its economic condition might be opposed to its practical condition as a conditioning is opposed to an a priori. Heidegger defines the condition qua conditioning as the setting up of a world. “Wherever the essential decisions of our history occur—taken up or foregone by us, misknown or retrieved by new inquiry—there the world worlds.”62 The setting up of a world, its ‘worlding’, is the economic condition within which we can take up or forgo, misknow or retrieve, the decisions that have made history. If a thinking is at all possible that transgresses its predominant conditioning, the stepping stone for such a transgression must again be provided by the economy. Such is the case with technology, whose ‘worlding’ is actually the most principled and potentially anarchic. The practical condition for such an other thinking to arise is best described by the transformation of the a priori, ‘willing’, into the a priori, ‘letting’. This is a transmutation of one willing into another, of willing as absolute because it wills itself, into “that willing which, renouncing willing, lets itself be committed (eingelassen) to what is not a will.”63 The acting that eventually shatters metaphysical conditioning introduces us fully into what Heidegger here calls die Gegnet [sic], the “open expanse”—none other than the economy emancipated from principles. “When we let ourselves be committed to the releasement [turned] toward the open expanse, we will non-willing.”64
Heidegger is not content with examining what happens to the question, What is to be done? at the end of metaphysics. He also asks: What is to be done at the end of metaphysics? In his answer, he does not urge decision for decision’s sake. Neither does he advocate love in order to combat hatred, nor expropriation of the expropriators in order to combat injustice. He urges the express downthrow of the epochal principles that are already foundering economically. This downthrow of what is already falling must be understood otherwise than as a willful, ‘decisive’, ‘resolute’, “efficacious” (tatkräftig) enterprise. For Heidegger, non-willing and releasement are more subversive than any project of the will that “wills to actualize and wills effectiveness as its element.”65 Given our place at the end of epochal history, non-willing and releasement turn out to be more powerful than willing and hubris.