The world age in which metaphysics reaches
completion—which we descry when we
think through the basic features of
Nietzsche’s metaphysics—prompts us to
wonder how we can at all gain access to the
history of being and, prior to that, how it is
that we must experience history as the
release of being into machination.
Nietzsche: European Nihilism1
Two things should be clear from the outset: (1) the following exposition of Nietzsche’s six ‘basic words’ is not an exposition of Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought; (2) as Heidegger makes Nietzsche’s basic words his own, he substitutes, within the ‘history of being’, the contemporary technological moment for the Nietzschean moment.
The first of these two points goes without saying since what is at stake here is Heidegger’s deduction of the categories of presencing. As for the second point, the evidence for it is to be found throughout Heidegger’s texts on Nietzsche: they speak formally about Nietzsche, but materially about technology; they describe technology as the closing field in the history of presence, as “the release of being into machination,” but they do so with the help of a vocabulary taken from Nietzsche. The soil where the retrospective categories are formed and from which they let themselves be gathered is not Nietzschean. Is it the philosophical muteness of technology that accounts for this game of substitution? Or is it the exhaustion of the concept, turned into machine and machination? Would Heidegger’s refusal even to attempt seeking the retrospective categories in their proper locus, contemporary technology, prove that despite his proclamations to the contrary there is an inability in his thinking to emerge effectively from the philosophic tradition? Could this be a sign that the ‘history of being’ is contained for him ultimately only in philosophical texts? In any case, the quid pro quo is flagrant: technology is metaphysics come to fulfillment;2 it is the supreme danger for “that history of being called metaphysics,”3 a danger in which “a reversal comes to pass in being, that is, in the essence of enframing [Gestell]”; a beneficial danger, for “with this turning” and no other, the originary origin emerges from forgottenness.4 There can be no doubt that Heidegger is describing the economy of the twentieth century: “These days” when we “possess tanks, airplanes and telecommunications equipment,” when we live the “machine economy,” “metaphysics has turned into the unconditioned.”5
In Heidegger’s usage of “Machenschaft”—machination as well as mechanicalization—one has to hear, ringing through that term, the Greek μηχανή (machine), the Latin machinari (to machinate) and the German machen (to make). The term covers the systemic links between industrial mechanization, attitudinal manipulation, and the generalized project of fabrication in the contemporary economy. In the epochal strategy called enframing, Heidegger thus suggests features that account for its global reach. As mechanical, cunning, and productional, technology stands opposed to the connotations of phuesthai: coming about by itself, letting-be, and growing naturally.
Why then ask Nietzsche to make that reversal understandable where ‘metaphysics’ is drawing to a close and where ‘the other beginning’ is opening up? One must see the option—for it is one—that unifies Heidegger’s Nietzsche interpretations, namely, that Nietzsche’s basic words bespeak the closing of the era opened with Greek classicism; that as a terminal figure, he is the “anti-Platonist” par excellence so that his “metaphysics” makes it possible to cast a regressive and encompassing look over all previous metaphysics; in short, that he is the “last thinker of metaphysics.”6
The terminal constellation of that history—be it only for the worldwide triumph of its ‘principle’—is, however, situated beyond Nietzsche: it is the technology of the twentieth century. One might wonder by what conversion game the spokesman of technology could have preceded it, through what anticipation the ‘thinker’ of completed metaphysics speaks for a language net that belongs to a subsequent aletheiological economy. The question has nothing to do with chronological calculus. But notice how the closure is described: by a technological disposition named after atomic energy;7 by the total state;8 by the struggle for planetary power;9 by “functionalization, perfection, automation, bureaucratization, communications.”10 It would be difficult to claim that the epochal economy detailed by these factors is the site of that fundamental historical position from which the Nietzschean discourse speaks. Besides, Heidegger says pointedly that Nietzsche’s metaphysics occupies “the penultimate stage” in the unfolding of the “will to will.”11 The switch between the epochal economy and its alleged discourse could not be more evident. It results in a crucial inadequacy of the retrospective categories: the will to power, nihilism, justice, the eternal return, the transmutation of values (and the death of God), as well as the overman will speak of technology only with the help of massive overdetermination and interpretation. Heidegger does not provide us with categories taken directly from the “machine economy” which he describes as the last in metaphysics.12
The substitution of the Nietzschean discourse for the technological economy clearly appears in the double relation that, according to Heidegger, technology maintains with metaphysics. Technology does not only complete metaphysics, it is itself a metaphysics, the metaphysics of our age. In it, presence turns into provocation. The law that gives coherence to the technological order is the challenge to nature, treated as a stock of resources, and the challenge to man to exploit it.13 The natural sciences and their so-called applications14 constitute one systematic realization of this latter-day metaphysics. Historiography, which aims at rendering the past available to knowledge, is another. Likewise theology, whose function it is to prepare access to the Supreme Being. Physics, psychiatry, philology, all enter into that strategy whose aim it is to place entities at our disposal.15 Consequently, it is one thing to call Nietzsche the last metaphysician, but quite another to call contemporary technology the last metaphysics. The economic loci held by each are distinct and should not be confused. Take the category of the will: if man is inescapably challenged today to challenge entities in their totality; if that destiny is inescapable because it is rooted in the two-thousand year old ‘will’ to submit entities to reason; and if technology is the full and therefore final implementation of that will—then this retrospective category, the will (to power), is formally taken from Nietzsche, but materially it denotes the economy Heidegger calls ‘atomic’. The same is true of all the retrospective categories: they only look Nietzschean. Their actual content is “the technical interpretation of thinking. Its inception reaches back to Plato and Aristotle.”16
The ‘destinal’ analytic, then, traces “Nietzsche’s metaphysics backwards, following the uniform tracks of modern metaphysics,”17 which, in turn, is “borne historically by Platonic-Aristotelian metaphysics and moves, despite the new beginning, within the same question: ‘What is an entity?’”18 From one end of the metaphysical age to the other, that analytic clears the strategical tracks (Bahnen) along which the epochs unfold. The tracks bared by the retrospective gaze do not differ essentially from those discovered by the prospective analysis. However, no one’s imagination nor any prophecy could have anticipated, before the reversal undergone by Cuzco, that the Inca principle would turn into the colonial principle, although retrospectively the schematic continuity leaps to the eye; likewise, in retrospect, persistencies appear throughout the West’s concatenations. To speak only of the two guiding categories, Heidegger draws a proportion, on one hand, between eon and the “will to power,” and on the other, between logos and the “eternal return of the same.” “The will to power is the fundamental characteristic of entities as such,” it is “the ‘being’ of entities” for the age of closure;19 and “the eternal return is the most stable stabilization of the unstable,” a function assigned to logos since Aristotle.20 The will to power responds, then, to the retrospective question: what is? and the eternal return, to the question: in what way is it?21 What is? The retrospective answer: the forces under the law of ‘always more’. How is it? The retrospective answer: constantly present under the law of the circle. The regressive analytic shows that the will for ‘always more’ has been at work in Western thought since Plato. That determination of metaphysics as a whole becomes thinkable only in its terminal phase when its reach has spread worldwide. The enterprise of stabilizing presence also appears ancient: to the gaze back through the epochs, it occurs first in Platonic thought, in which the Good is established and fixed so as to maintain itself above the transient. It occurs also in Aristotelian thought in which the substratum is established and fixed so as to maintain itself beneath the transient. A more immediately technological vocabulary would doubtlessly have rendered the epistemological status of the retrospective categories less ambiguous. Nevertheless, as Heidegger uses the will to power and the eternal return, these terms succeed in making the traits of ‘onto-logy’ since Plato explicit as well as in bearing out the hypothesis of metaphysical completion and closure.
Heidegger gives two lists of the regressively applicable “basic words” in Nietzsche: “nihilism, transmutation of all values until now, will to power, eternal return of the same, overman”;22 and “ ‘Will to power’ is the word for the being of entities as such, their essentia; ‘nihilism’ is the name for the history of the truth of entities so determined; the way entities are in their totality, their existentia, is called ‘eternal recurrence of the same’; ‘overman’ designates the human type required by that totality; ‘justice’ is the essence of the truth of entities as will to power.”23 Where the first enumeration places “transmutation of all values until now,” the second lists “justice,” to which must be added another phrase from Nietzsche, “which has always been spoken in Western history without having ever been uttered “:24 “God is dead.” Here the two meanings of hen that remained predominant after the agonistic One had fallen into forgottenness are easily recognizable: the economic One becomes “all values until now” and the divine One, “God.” Their destiny in the epoch of metaphysics’ closure is to undergo a “transmutation” and “death.” As for “justice,” since it is said to be the essence of truth, it pertains to alētheia. “Nihilism” signifies that “all entities, in their totality, must become other,”25 that their “nature” must change. As a category, nihilism descends from phusis. “Overman,” lastly, descends from nous, the one prospective category directly addressing man. These summary parallels suggest, at least schematically, the cogency of the number of the six retrospective categories as well as the place assigned to them in the table. Their signification and position with respect to the Greek categories will have to be established separately for each.
For the project of a historical analytic, it is essential not to confound (as I have indicated regarding logos) the application of a category with that category itself. In other words, will to power, nihilism, justice, eternal return, transmutation, and overman do not designate incidences in the contemporary epochal economy of the categories eon, phusis, alētheia, logos, hen, nous. On the contrary, the retrospective categories just like the prospective ones apply in every epoch. For example, the Middle Ages: If eon for the Medievals takes the form of the difference between ens and esse, both said of the Christian God, and if logos is the order He imposes as Creator (cosmic logos) and as Savior (filial logos), then these are applications or incidences of two Greek categories (although that understanding of being “never again attains the esti [eon] gar einai,”26 nor that understanding of the Word of God, the logos). But the same epoch, the Christian Middle Ages, must also be read according to the technological categories: then will to power appears as “securing [one’s] salvation.” Upon this medieval figure follows the modern reversal through which “the will releases itself in truth as certitude.”27 Correspondingly, the eternal return in its pre-modern shape gives permanence to the Guardian and Guarantor of that salvation, it applies as the nunc stans, the form of solidity and stability, which prefigures the modern identification of reason and ground.28 Stated otherwise, in a prospective reading, the Medieval understanding of being shows itself as an impoverished version of eon, and the understanding of the Son-Word as an equally poorer version of logos. But retrospectively, ‘being in the Middle Ages means to be sure of one’s salvation, and then Medieval being is an incidence of the will to power; likewise, ‘logos in the Middle Ages signifies the fixity that makes the supreme entity worthy of faith, and then the Word is an incidence of the eternal return.29 Medieval ‘onto-logy’ is not the same in a prospective and a retrospective reading. This may illustrate the fact that the basic words borrowed from Nietzsche are categories, not applications of categories. Those words are therefore to be carefully distinguished from what Heidegger calls the “superimposition of a new beginning upon received metaphysical thought.”30 Such superimposing occurs notably with Descartes, where “all entities are seen from the viewpoint of Creator and creature, and the new determination of man through the cogito sum is, as it were, merely inscribed into the old framework.”31 The key terms of Scholasticism and Cartesianism are only applications of the two categorial nets, prospective and retrospective. The technological basic words, on the other hand, since they are gathered from the moment of closure, constitute a determinant categorial ensemble. Through them the history of metaphysical thought is counter-invested (as in an anticathexis) by significations that become manifest only at the moment of its technological deployment.
The counter-investment of the epochs by the technological categories has the curious status of an a priori that operates regressively; an a priori that, while appearing at one precise moment in history, nonetheless functions as a transcendental determination “pervading” all epochs; an a priori that requires a given epochal constellation, our own, in order to be at all thinkable. With this dependence of the phenomenology of presencing on two economies, on two givens—the economy of inception and the economy of closure—the Heideggerian enterprise does not dissociate the a priori from the transcendental (as is for instance the case with Michel Foucault s ‘positive’ a priori). Heidegger redefines the relationship that the transcendental and the a priori entertain with the empirical: The Greek “dawn” of thought and its technological “night” (Hölderlin) reveal the structuring elements which ‘make the day’ of the epochs in between and which thereby transcend both the inaugural and the closing moments. The deduction of the retrospective categories obviously moves in a circle: they are categories and not categorial incidences because they are gathered from technology, metaphysics’ terminal economy; conversely, technology is the terminal economy of metaphysics since in it the regressively determinant categories become explicit and show themselves to prevail finally. But the apparent argumentative circle only indicates that the deduction of the categories, just like the construction of the closure, depends on a more fundamental project: the repetition of the being-question. It is made possible and necessary, as stated in the first sentence of Being and Time, by the deconstructionist observation that “this question has today fallen into forgottenness.” Deduction and construction depend on deconstruction as the method of repetition. The two categorial sets, prospective and retrospective, appear when the repetition of the being-question takes as its starting point the fact of the technological break and places it in correspondence with the fact of the Socratic break. No deduction is possible unless that one question is put to this twofold fact. The deduction, “in raising the fundamental question of philosophy, seizes the inception and the end of Western metaphysics in their antinomic [gegenwendig] historical unity.”32 Our history is thus permeated with ambiguity from one end to the other.
The will to power denominates “the fundamental character of entities,” “the reality of the real,” that is, “the being of entities.”33 These equations speak primarily of the technological epoch. They signify that it is the will which sets up subjectivity as the unassailable metaphysical principle. They bespeak the triumph of totalitarian anthropocentrism over presencing as self-manifestation. Those equations signify moreover that the technological subject wills something. It wills power. This marks the triumph of teleology over presencing, the ‘play without a why’. Lastly, they signify that what the will wills is ‘always more’ of itself; it is the ‘will to will. In this they address the triumph of reduplication over the difference contained in presencing as eon.
To understand the Heideggerian concept of will to power is to view that threefold technological triumph—of subject, goal, and reduplication—as the outcome of the direction taken by metaphysics from its start. The triumph of subjectivity lies in the will to power’s establishing its own conditions, called values. “Value seems to express that, in positing a relation to it, we ourselves accomplish what is most valuable.”34 The will to power posits values in order to overcome itself ceaselessly. That necessity in each existent of constantly going beyond itself is not a mere consequence of ‘being’ now settled as ‘will to power’; it is rather the very essence of that settling. Power is power only if it always pursues more power, only if it posits the conditions of its own preservation as conditions of its enhancement, and vice versa. “Power enhancement is, then, in itself at the same time also the preservation of power.”35 With presencing so given over to the conditions of willing—not only in its configurations but in its very possibility—the will becomes properly the subiectum of all: “standing by itself and lying underneath everything.”36 The retrospective scope of this category is easily seen. Through it, the technological project appears as one of placing being under the narrowest criteria. Only what is posited by the will and enhances it qualifies as an entity. This voluntaristic pre-understanding allows for an oblique reading of transmitted doctrines, laying bare the work of a counterforce in them: “Comprehended from the standpoint of the will to power, the Ideas must be thought as values”; read prospectively, however, “the Platonic Ideas are not values.”37 Likewise with Aristotle: when read retrospectively, hupokeimenon is a positing that anticipates the self-positing of the subiectum as willing subject.38 If the will to power is indeed to be considered the ground of metaphysics in its last phase, then the self-positing of “subjectness”39 has deep roots. They feed on an interest operative in metaphysics since its beginning, namely, that the reality of the real be set up by the willing ego.
The will wills power, hence it has a goal. With Nietzsche as the spokesman for technology, the teleocracy introduced into philosophy with Aristotle s Physics reaches the very being of all entities. But in its fulfillment, finality also cancels itself. Teleocracy does not signify here some ontic process of unlimited accumulation, but the very structure of accumulation or transformation into stock which Heidegger describes as the basic law of technology. The economy of metaphysical closure is permeated by the law of self-overcoming toward whatever the subject has posited as its object. In that sense, one may speak without contradiction not only of the triumph of ‘subjectness’ (Subjektität), but also of reification, the triumph of objectivation. “Indeed, the essence of subjectivism is objectivism insofar as for the subject everything turns into an object.”40 In that sense, Kant’s discovery of the co-constitution of subject and object in a subjective act becomes radicalized when translated and displaced into the terms of will to power and value: the will to power posits itself as its own condition in positing all things as values, that is, as its own objects; in striving after ‘mastery over the earth”, in willing that everything become its object, what it wills is thus itself; it wills the totality of possible objects as its immanent goal. The boundless reach cancels its own goal-directedness. The law that makes the will aim at limitless appropriation thereby dissolves teleocracy, so that “entities in their totality are goalless and, as such, will to power.”41 The will to power internalizes every end or purpose since these are what it posits. It sets out to make everything its own; its very aim, as so unlimited, therefore requires the overcoming of all aim. Every telos of the will to power turns into its obstacle: erected by the will itself, but for the sake of being overcome. The background against which the will to power displays its moments of erecting and abolishing aims is the spectacle of global submission to Western culture. It implants itself everywhere and in order to abide, it must surpass itself without respite and without mercy. This second function, too, is thus traceable back to the dawn of our culture—not only back to the Cartesian cogito understood as co-agitatio, as an “objectification that masters,”42 but further back to the Aristotelian kratein.43
Lastly, this is the triumph of reduplication over difference. Eon spoke of presencing in its difference from the present. The retrospective category opposite eon preserves that duality only under the guise of a reduplication: what the will to power wills is—as its condition and its object—always itself. “The will to power counts only on itself.” Since the law of technology is so bent back upon itself, it is best called “the will to will.”44 From the difference between an entity (nominal) and being (verbal) to the reduplication of the will, the Verbal’ connotation disappears from presence: the will as the self-assertion of present entities in their beingness (Seiendheit) covers the self-manifestation of presencing with the thickest obfuscation. Entities are not only what is willed; their totality—their economy—wills itself, wills itself present. The Greek name for such unrestrained self-imposition is hubris.45 This ‘I-I’, of present entities—‘I’, an entity, and ‘I’, its beingness or economy—simulates the ontological difference. I am what is willed, and I am that which wills. The reification and objectivation with which Heidegger so frequently characterizes the strategy of the retrospective categories46 are to be understood less by the mechanism of representation than by that of reduplication. The subject-object representation is the Cartesian penultimate phase before the law which has articulated from within the metaphysical difference since Plato and Aristotle made itself known as the reduplication will-will.
My purpose here is neither to explicate the Nietzschean concept of will to power, nor to criticize its Heideggerian use, nor even to show how Heidegger applies it to technology, but only to indicate the way that concept functions as a retrospective category when read through the technological economy. From this viewpoint, the scope to be given to statements like the following becomes clear: “The essence of technology comes to the light of day only slowly. This day is the world’s night converted into a merely technical day.” As a slow arrival of night, the moment of closure is for each epochal economy its utmost danger. “It is not only the totalitarian character of willing that is the danger, but willing itself, in the guise of self-assertion within a world admitted only as will.”47
In order to establish the categorial significance of nihilism, it must be shown how phusis gets overdetermined throughout epochal history; this is accomplished by a regressive strategy that traces this notion backward from technology. Here again, the beginning of metaphysics and its entire course prove to be animated, at first unnoticeably, by a force that becomes patent only in the age of closure: “The metaphysics of Plato is no less nihilistic than the metaphysics of Nietzsche.”48
Pervasive nihilism appears in a first layer of evidence: “metaphysics as metaphysics is nihilism proper,”49 because phusis, the originary phenomenon of being, has remained forgotten. In that sense, nihil designates the historical or destinai negation of that phenomenon. “The unfolding of nihilism is the history in which there is nothing to being itself.”50 The destinal nihil unfolds, triumphs with technology, and in this triumph reveals itself. Nihilistic overdetermination is therefore more than forgottenness; it is an organizing economic force leading to the obfuscation of being as phusis. The presencing of the present is ‘nothing’ since it is conceived in terms of other present entities—causes, principles, values—and identified with them. Nihilism is, then, the name for presencing as it has articulated itself concretely from the Platonic turn onward.51 The essence of metaphysics is nihilistic, for its very project forecloses understanding the historical folds and backfolds as successive modalities of phuein. Nihil signifies the dissimulation of the phenomenological difference between the present and its presencing.
There is a second layer of evidence. Here, it is not phuein that is nothing because epochally forgotten; nihilism is that epochal phuein where even the metaphysical difference—in short, the difference between the herebelow and the beyond—is nothing anymore. Heidegger asks: “In what does that appearance of nihilism proper which is of immediate historical concern to us, namely its completion, have its ground?”52 In other words, in what does it become flagrant in the twentieth century that the philosophy with which the West has grown has exhausted itself by construing schemes of ultimate foundation upon one supreme entity, principle, or value after another; but that it has not been in a position to think those constructs themselves as so many inflections of presencing? Eighteenth and nineteenth century critics of metaphysics answered questions prefiguring this one by pointing toward progress and scientific rigor and by demarcating critical rationality from the dogmatic slumber of the School philosophies. Heidegger, on the other hand, traces “the appearance of nihilism proper” precisely to the identification between rigorous thinking and foundational rationality, an identification in which the traditions of ‘slumber’ and of critical ‘wakefulness’ concur. Jointly they have led to the collapse of all after-worlds. That collapse, “of immediate historical concern to us,” marks the “completion” of nihilism. He thus opposes the beginning of metaphysics in Plato to its end in technology as he opposes latent nihilism to manifest nihilism. At issue throughout that course or deployment (Wesen) is the growing integrity and integrality in exposing reason’s self-incurred illusions. “Nihilism proper” then means: the epoch of closure is nihilism’s proper site; it is in its essence (Wesen) nihilistic, for it proclaims aloud that only entities and goods are worth anything, that their ‘difference’ from being or the Good is worth nothing. Here nihil stands for the soberness of the technological economy according to which there is nothing to look for behind the visible and manipulable. As the final sentence passed on illusions, nihilism designates the way things come to presence today. It denotes that epochal determinacy according to which phuein remains operative when even the difference between the visible and the invisible is eclipsed.
In order to grasp the categorial import of nihilism, it is sufficient to hold together these two senses of difference as they appear in the two senses of ‘Wesen: destinai (geschicklich)53 unfolding of the metaphysical difference and event-like (ereignishaft) essence of the phenomenological difference. Technology is only the “final stage”54 of the former insofar as it is the proper locus of the latter. Technology is “inverted Platonism”55 because in its epoche it has dismissed the world of the beyond, declaring it vain, as the shadows in the cave were once declared. When read diachronically as “a history,” nihilism is “the basic trait of Western history,” “its ‘logic.’ ‘56 But nihilism may be read this way because synchronically it is phusis itself laid out in a technological economy. The epochal economies in which presencing has counted as worthless can be spelled out retrospectively the moment presencing shows itself explicitly as worthless, as securing no beyond. At that moment, “metaphysics divests itself of its own possibility of unfolding.”57 Retrospectively, one can say that metaphysics has completed its cycle and has collapsed, since synoptically one must say that contemporary man, “dislodged from his essence, compensates his homelessness by the organized global conquest of the earth.”58 As decidedly one-dimensional, such conquest is the most revelatory manifestation of the technological phuein.
The category “nihilism” is “a concept of being.” As such it designates the tendency in the Western epochs toward a fundamental position where the nothingness of being “not only cannot be understood but also will no longer be understood.”59 Even in its form of a metaphysical duality between more and less actual entities, that no-thingness is cancelled. The force at work in nihilism is then none other than the will to power, whose self-affirmation entails here the negation of being, in the guise of negating any transcendence. Once that position has been reached, metaphysics is closed, and its history lets itself be explicated according to one more of its basic traits: the eclipse of presencing first in its objectivation as a supreme referent (the birth of nihilism in Plato) and then in the devaluation of that referent as worth nothing.
The categorial usage Heidegger makes of the Nietzschean concept of justice is comprehensible only in connection with “the calculative importunity” with which technology “objectivates nature.”60 The line of ascendency, then, is clear—at least etymologically: from technological calculus (Rechnen), Heidegger goes back to Nietzschean justice (Gerechtigkeit) and to logical rightness or accuracy (Richtigkeit); from there to reor, rechtfertigen and Rechenschaft as acts of predication and judgment, to the ratio which is their faculty, and lastly to the verb εἴϱѡ, ‘to speak’, but also ‘to join’.61 Under the etymological cast is hidden a regressive reading of the epochs following the guiding thread of ‘calculation’. “Man is the calculative animal. All this holds true, in various transformations and yet unanimously, throughout the entire history of Western thought.”62
In its effort to secure a stock of available resources technology reveals yet another trait that has been operative all along in the history of presencing. The categorial concept of justice tells how human life and the totality of entities have come to be mutually adjusted by technical procedures. To render justice to that totality is to “level and insert human life” into it. Doing justice to it is an act of conforming man to what he has been able to place at his disposal, himself included. Such universal equalization throws a new light on the traditional understanding of truth as conformity: retrospectively, “as homoiōsis, truth must be what Nietzsche calls ‘justice’. . . . Here ‘justice’ is the metaphysical name for the essence of truth—for the way in which the essence of truth must be comprehended at the end of Western metaphysics.”63
As a category, justice has nothing to do with juridical or moral considerations. If, late in the metaphysical day, the essence of truth appears as ‘justice’, understood as technological equalization, it is the theory of adequation rather than that of virtue which is placed in new contexts. Following the structural-historical parallel, which has already proved itself workable in the deduction of the preceding categories, one can say that the structural or synchronic essence (Wesen) of truth appears only when its epochal or diachronie unfolding (Wesen) draws to an end. Technological equalization tells the truth about truth, namely that “alētheia had to remain unthought in its essence” for the sake of various mechanisms of adjustment and conformation. Adjustment is the enduring pattern on which the versions of truth have been modeled since “the forgetting” of alētheia. Retrospective categorization, then, reveals the “ground for the possibility” of the most traditional notion of truth.64 In the light of technology, justice’ specifies the transcendental trait that underhangs the various instances of conformity born from the Platonic notion of ‘assimilation’ to the Good. Man is the calculative animal insofar as in all metaphysical economies—whether Greek or technological—the relations that link entities have been fixed in reference to him and therefore remain, more than ever, equalizing. So understood as adjustment to man, justice “is the condition of the being of what is living, that is, of entities in their totality.” It is “the basic trait of life.”65 The truth about truth is that, as correspondence (‘predicative’ for Aristotle, ‘eidetic’ for Plato, ‘transcendental’ for the Medievals, ‘pro-positional’ or ‘re-presentational’ for the Moderns), it has remained the chief tool for equalization throughout the epochs. The elevation of the theoretical gaze toward the sun of the Good, the soul’s road to God, the image of the world in the cogito, synthetic a priori judgments, are so many incidences of the one categorial trait which becomes full-fledged in contemporary standardization and normalization and which Nietzsche addressed as ‘justice’.
It should be obvious now how this category depends on the will to power: ‘justice’ is the conversion of everything, without remainder, into values for the will; it is the willful transformation into stock (Beständigung). Willful homogenization is part of the very project of preservation and enhancement which defines the will to power. The category of justice declares itself in that epochal economy which reaches for “unlimited domination over the earth,”66 that is, which completes the adjustment of entities in their totality to man’s hold. Such universal adjustment through and to the will is the retrospectively evident kernel in the ancient constructs of assimilation, for example of 𝛝ε⍵ѡσις, deification, ἕv⍵σις, unification, or ἅπλ⍵σις, simplification.
From the vantage point of technological standardization, the relation of the retrospective category, justice, to the prospective category, alētheia, seems to be one of mutual exclusion. Truth, it seems, is either unconcealment or global uniformity. Adjustment, and even before that, adequation and assimilation, seem to deny their origin located in unconcealment. “But denial is the contrary of overcoming.” Beneath the retrospective strategy, the prospective one continues to be at work, “always already [immer schon] and always still [immer noch], even though transmuted, inverted, obstructed, and thereby misunderstood.” Justice stands not only for the countermove to metaphysical assimilation and adequation; it is “the extreme counter-deployment of the initial [pre-metaphysical] determination of truth.”67 The bi-millennial course of the quest for truth shows itself to be set, here again, on two undeflectable tracks: forward from the Presocratics, alētheia; and backward from technology, justice.
If the will to power is “the being of entities” for the era of metaphysics’ closure, the eternal return of the same indicates “the sense of being” for that technological era. Here again, ‘sense’ is not to be understood as ‘meaning’, but as the structural orientation of legein: the directionality of the Selbstauslegung, self-interpretation or self-display of presencing. The will to power lays itself out, displays itself, interprets itself in the circle of the eternal return. Only such an understanding of sense as directedness makes it possible to say that the eternal return is, for the will to power, “that from which and on the grounds of which being in general can become manifest as such and can come into truth.”68 The eternal return is the order in which everything present in the contemporary epoch comes about, the tendency it follows in entering our economy. It is the law according to which things ‘come into’ the rigorous arrangements of Gestell (technological en-framing or im-posing).
The sense of presencing called eternal return has been prepared for a long time. It is “the thought that, although concealed, pervades the whole of Western philosophy as its proper driving [force].” With this motive now in the open, the onto-logical structure of all economies can be addressed by correlating their commencement with their epochal consummation: Nietzsche’s basic words bring us “back to the inception of Western philosophy”69—beyond the Platonic reversal where eon turned into the difference between to estin and to ti estin, and where logos became the doctrine of that difference. The hypothesis of closure stands and falls with the proportion
‘will to power’: ‘eternal return’ :: eon : logos.
When ‘onto-logy’ becomes equatable with ‘eternal return, sense of the will to power’, the solidification of presencing is no longer only a matter of propositions and their faculty in the mind; with technology, logos leaves the ‘logical’ domain and comes to fix the system of technical regulations. This ultimate stabilization appears from the peculiar way the will to power and the eternal return ‘repeat’ eon and logos: there is no difference between will to power and eternal return. Viewed from the technological economy, where entities are framed so as to be constantly accessible to ‘machinations’, being (the will to power) and its sense (the eternal return) are identical: both designate the depthless surface where the rational animal operates, henceforth deprived of its proper transcendence once bestowed by ‘reason’ and the ‘true world’. Now only ‘animality’ and ‘brutality’ are left. They unroll in our century, unbound by any limits assignable by reason, since they have made rationality—a certain rationality—their essence. “After the liquidation of the ‘true’ and the ‘apparent’ world, a single flat surface is all that remains. It reveals itself as the identity of eternal return and will to power.”70
Here, then, is the criterion that makes it possible for Heidegger to treat the eternal return as a category of closure: with the negation of’depth’, that is, with the reduction of the pre-metaphysical difference (eon) as well as of any metaphysical transcendence (sensory-suprasensory worlds) to sheer planarity, being’s intrinsic motility is reduced to zero. Without the connotations of process contained in both the grammar of participles and the praxiologies of transcendence, being becomes literally ‘sense’-less. The doctrine of the eternal return is “the last ‘metaphysical’ fundamental position in Western thought.”71 With that doctrine, then, the verbal-nominal difference and its laying-out (legein) collapse into one. So do all constructs of otherness, such as ground-appearance, beyond-below, etc. They are rendered epochally impossible. ‘Real distinctions’ were however the backbone of metaphysics just as the participial difference was the backbone of pre-metaphysical thought. With the reduction of those distinctions and that difference to technological one-dimensionality, being and entities (eon), being and its ‘layout’ (logos), as well as being and essence (hoti-ti) are all one.
This is so because, with the eternal return, being and time are all one. Legein was the category that stressed the emergence of the present from absence. As such it was a temporal category. The eternal return, which corresponds to it, likewise addresses temporality: the directedness of the will to power, its accession to the regularity of the circle. But since the time-dimension of technological products resides in their unvarying availability itself, being and time are the same in the eternal return. The constancy that, as a category, it imparts to those products is thus the temporal mode of presencing in the era where all received dualities collapse. The eternal return stabilizes becoming in the geometric permanence of the circle. But more radically—retrospectively—it stabilizes coming-to-presence; it immobilizes the event of presencing. To think the eternal return is “to keep oneself essentially within the true as within what has been made fast; in this way, the thought of the eternal recurrence of the same makes fast the eternal flux.”72
But if the signification of logos pertaining to speech disappears with technology, does logos not, overdetermined as eternal return, recover its original sense, namely, the orderly emergence into presence? Is technology not the triumph of logos as systemic self-display? If so, how is such recovery reconcilable with the pretended ‘humanism’ of the epoch of closure? Answer: the eternal return is the anti-logos, its late but complete and therefore symmetrical inversion, because in it a more radical humanism comes to light than anything born from the classical Greek turn of legein toward dialegesthai. That first turn, from which sprang metaphysical anthropocentrism,73 encloses logos in speculations about the specific difference of human nature: man is ςῷov λό𝛾ov ἔχov, the living entity endowed with speech, with reason. But ‘humanism’ reaches its apogee when logos is displaced from the context of defining human nature and comes to designate instead “the basic determination of the world-all,” that is, “the supreme humanization of entities in one with the extreme naturalization of man.”74 Eternal return is the proper name of this Vermenschung. It means that man, a certain epochal type of man, poses as the hub around which entities are arranged in a circular disposition, immobilized. Viewed retrospectively, this literally exorbitant humanization tells us something about logos that the prospective reading, which traces its slippage toward the orbit of speech and logic, had no way of discerning: the type of man who thinks that the eternal return is the truth “posits himself within that truth of entities in their totality; hence, by the simple fact that there are some who think that way, entities are already transmuted in their totality.”75 When read prospectively, from the Platonic to the technological turn, the transmutation of logos indicates the humanization of presencing in and through discourse; but when read retrospectively, the eternal return indicates its humanization in and through a project of the will, in and through a positing of the self that sets to work all the resources of domination accumulated by technology.
Regarding the necessity of such a two-way reading, the Cartesian new beginning is again illustrative: prospectively, the cogito is of obviously ‘logical’ descent, but retrospectively, it appears as co-agitatio, the forebear of technological en-framing and im-posing.
The two last categories place the technological economy under two complementary viewpoints directly dependent on the eternal return. The first answers the question: what is the condition of entities in their totality, their mode of presence, if the ‘sense’ of technology, its presencing, is the eternal return? The second answers the question: who is the type of man around whom everything in that economy is arrested in the fixity of a circle? The transmutation of all values answers the first question; the overman, the second.
The rigorous symmetry between the opening and the closing phases of the metaphysical era according to Heidegger appears best in the transmutation—or rather the permutation—of the echelons within the ancient hierarchy of the Good.
That overturn implies more than the modern identification between what is real and what is empirically verifiable; it goes beyond transcendental criticism with its opposition between the intuitable and the merely thinkable “to which no corresponding object can be given in sense-experience.”76 Located as it is in the late modern economy, technological metaphysics “must direct itself against the supreme values posited in philosophy,” be they ancient or modern. Technology therefore functions as the countermovement against “the whole of Western philosophy inasmuch as that philosophy remains the formative principle in the history of Western man.”77 The contemporary economy produces a transformation of values, then, but one that is only the most vivid consequence of a much older transformation into values. Seen from our hypothetically terminal site, the ancient echelons, the Ideas, as well as the modern rules, the categories, appear not at all as pure concepts, but as illusions valued by, and therefore valid for, the type of life called Western man. Metaphysics opens with that type constituting itself through transforming phenomena into values; it closes with that type undoing its own estimations through the transvaluation of all values until now.78 To the retrospective gaze, Ideas and degrees of being prove to have been always already posited by man. Such positing of the worthy and worthless begins with Plato and includes Kant who esteems most highly what is formally synthetic and empirically applicable. The technological trans valuation, first understood by Nietzsche, inverts the high and low established at the beginning of metaphysics—and thereby renders it the greatest homage, permuting from within, from bottom to top, the valuative game. That game is thus lodged more decidedly than ever within the Platonic scheme. The “counter-movement against metaphysics is, as its mere turning upsidedown, an inextricable entanglement in metaphysics.”79
Compared to its counterpart, the prospective category hen, the transmutation—the inversion or permutation of values—signifies first of all that what was most elevated, the divine hen, is to be found at the bottom of the scale where matter and non-being were once located. That is what makes this a transvaluation. But from the regressive viewpoint, the ‘death of God’ is only one instance, although the most striking, of such transvaluation. Technological metaphysics, as the contemporary mode of presence, inverts the entire order of the economic hen. Through ‘machination’ and ‘equalization’ on the depthless surface, presence—the constellation of being—is confined to the manipulable and the manufacturable, reducing whatever will not so fall into our hands to a shadow of the real relations. Of that estimation by which whatever was formerly high turns into nothing, and which affects the entire order of the economic hen, Heidegger can say: the decision “whether or not God is God comes to pass from out of the consteilation of being and within it.”80
At issue in the transmutation of values, understood as their permutation within the enduring Platonic constellation, is its categorial scope. For the manipulable to inherit the prestige of the ancient Good, the representation of an ideal hierarchy must have contained its fatal agent within itself ever since its conception. From the genealogy of principles we know that such is indeed the case. The phrase “God is dead” “has always been spoken in Western history without ever having been uttered. “81 The technological evacuation of the suprasensory is the consequence of man’s oldest and boldest claim—to crown the creation. That evacuation, too, can be stated in the double meaning of ‘Wesen’: the essence of the technological era is that the divine defaults; but that waning of the suprasensory is only the outcome, the self-revelation, of a historical unfolding. As a synchronic concentration, the default of the highest values is only the outcome of a diachronie process: “Because Nietzsche’s basic metaphysical position is the end of metaphysics, the greatest and most profound concentration—that is, the completion—of all the essential fundamental positions of Western philosophy since Plato occurs in it, and it does so in the light of Platonism.”82 In terms of the trans valuation: since the fundamental position called technology concentrates and unites the valuations of all previous fundamental metaphysical positions in their extreme, it is terminal.
From this, the categorial scope of the transmutation becomes evident: the chorismos between a world of being and a world of becoming has, at the outset, introduced estimation and valuation into the speculations about entities. Inasmuch as one world is estimated more valuable than another, entities in their totality have been placed, and are so more than ever, in a situation of obligation to estimating man. The fatal agent contained in metaphysics since its beginning is such estimation, the preference for one region of entities over others, the attribution of rank. In this way, ever since the classical reversal the economic hen has included degrees of eminence, which is to say, it has been an order of values for man. But that dependence on man, that evaluative humanism, appears only when estimations get inverted. “All values,” the entire economic field as centered on man, then flips from the positive to the negative, and “this inversion in which the opposition between being and becoming is extinguished, constitutes its completion proper.”83
The birth of the great ladder of being from an act of human evaluation also suggests how transmutation, as a category, depends on the preceding category: the stabilization of becoming addressed by the eternal return occurred long ago, in the cradle of idealities. It is by declaring values, whatever they may be, that man places himself in the center of the circle described by the eternal return. The metaphysical arrangement that gathers entities in their totality, on, the supreme entity, theos, and the law of their stabilization, logos, into an ‘onto-theo-logical’ order is thus the most ancient instance of the categorial convertibility between the eternal return and the transmutation of all values.
With the forgottenness of the differential One and with the institution of man as principle over the economic One, entities turn into values. When a new constellation displaces the highest of those values, the divine One, the “conviction shared with Platonism” does not change; only, henceforth “the true is the sensory.”84 In the ‘counter-position to Platonism’ one entity, one region of entities, is still being singled out as permanent and supremely real. The real is now lodged in what is apt for technological treatment, but the new locus only confirms that “in its essence, truth is an estimation of values.”85 The category of transmutation indicates that, from one extreme to the other in this history of the slow perversion of Platonism, it is man who has bestowed the titles of real-unreal, high-low, true-apparent, valid-invalid, simple-derived, immutable-changing, ὀvτω̃ς ὄv-µƞ̀ ὄv. The category of transmutation tells how entities are epochally arranged around the valuating ‘hub’ called man.
But does technology not abolish all those opposites just mentioned? How can Heidegger describe the contemporary economy both as one-dimensional and as inverted Platonism? One-dimensionality signifies that the formerly low, the sensory, has annihilated, as Nietzsche saw, what was formerly high, and that dichotomies have been effectively rendered inoperative: “With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.”86 For Heidegger—here again turning Nietzsche against himself—the permutation of values preserves the distinction between a true and an apparent world.87
The paradox is less disturbing if placed under the hypothesis of metaphysical closure. According to that hypothesis, what is it that was formerly high? The epochal principles. They still determine presence in the twentieth century, even though they have long fallen from esteem. Transvaluation as a trait of essentially ambiguous technology thus points to the task (to be elucidated below) of removing the remnants of self-incurred fictions which have already lost most of their efficacy in stamping our age. The abolition of the true and the apparent world is still incomplete on the borderline of technology, when, for all practical purposes, ‘anarchy’ has to be turned into an operative ‘principle’.
If the transmutation describes how entities fit into the age-old epochal economy centered on the human subject—namely, as values—the category of overman points to evaluating man himself in that economy. The transmutation reveals the subjectivization of the world by the act of estimation. Once this link between anthropocentrism and the transformation of the world into values is seen, the question cannot be avoided: “In which subjectivity is the ‘subjectivization’ of the world grounded?”88 The category of overman answers that question. It can be viewed as the final consequence of the ‘Copernican revolution’ through which the world is arranged around the axial figure of the self-affirming subject.
Just as the category of nous remained unintelligible without reference to logos and eon, so the category of overman is pertinent only in conjunction with the will to power and the eternal return. “That man is called overman who, in the midst of entities, is related to entities which, as such, are will to power and, in their totality, eternal return of the same.” Consequently, just as with nous man explicitly entered the table of categories, so the overman indicates “the anthropomorphism necessary in the completion of metaphysics.”89 Anthropomorphism indeed: man informs the order of present things. Anthropomorphism is necessary for the completion of metaphysics inasmuch as man no longer encounters anything but himself in entities; the ‘meta-’, the reference to a reality other than sensory, has been engulfed by the reduplication of the will. This triumph of anthropomorphism not only requires that the will will itself, it also presupposes that entities be stabilized in the immobile stricture of the eternal return. The human type that the Western epochë has instituted as master over presence is therefore the one that essentially wills itself and wills itself in steadying concentrically around it all that there is and can be. The overman is the counter-category to nous as well as to its most traditional metaphysical trope, animal rationale. Its opposition to ratio, reason, does not signify any irrational project; ‘overman’ is the name of a figure that speaks for a peculiar kind of rationality. It is the name for the double agent behind the esteem in which the West has held reason, the double agent that the will to power is in its sense or directedness, the eternal return. The overman is the agent of the rationality of dominion.
As the subject willing itself exceedingly—exceeding all measures not originating from it—the overman legislates that he ought to legislate, commands himself to command, wills himself to will. Such is his “self-stamping” (Selbstprägung).90 Stamping himself willfully as commander and transmutating entities into the eternal return around him, he “institutes unconditional dominion over the earth” through the “simplification of all things and men.”91 These two traits, the will and the return, show how in the era of metaphysics’ closure, to be is to will; being is subjectivity. Retrospectively, the slippage toward being as subjectivity clearly begins with the moderns, when noein turns into perception and “interrogation” before the tribunal of reason, “which decides the being of entities.” It is already under way, although less clearly so, with the ancients: “Since the beginning of metaphysics, re-presentation (noein) is that perception which does not receive entities passively, but lets the present be given as such to a gaze raised actively.”92 But what was indecipherable for a prospective reading from the viewpoint of noein is that such representational activity should culminate in the unconditional enframing of the globe and thereby reveal an essential trait of Western culture. Here again, then, Wesen as essence reveals itself only at the end of Wesen as historical unfolding.
The category of the overman depends, moreover, on that of transmutation. The prefix ‘over-’ indicates the overcoming of the human types prior to the final metaphysical reversal. What type of man is to be overcome so that the whole of entities submit to the overman? It is the type that underestimates. In the will willing only itself and its one dimension, there can be no place for underestimation. What is it, then, that the type prior to the closure has learned to underestimate most? Why can he not will himself without hesitations and without restraint, without mediation, and without delay? It is the underestimation of the body that has inhibited the consummation of the will into will to power, an underestimation that reverses the overestimation of the soul or the spirit over the body. As Heidegger traces this category, the overman appears when the double control over the self (will) and over the world (its stabilization in the eternal return) abolishes the preëminence of representational reason over the body. At the moment of closure, that abolition can only happen as an inversion: the economic strategy which exalts the spirit thereby declares that the body is inferior—nothing; whereas the strategy which dismisses such an estimation and abolishes the superior, thereby declares that the spirit is nothing, that I am entirely body. The overman commands with his body understood as a form of the will to power in “unconditional and, since inverted, for the first time complete subjectivity.”93 The era of metaphysics can be considered closed if technology can be shown to permutate spirit and body, or if technological man is shown to ‘estimate’ with his body. Of this last permutation of the Platonic terms, Heidegger sees an indication in the violence with which technological man subjects the globe or ‘entities in their totality’. Because of the physical nature of that submission, the turn toward animal rationale retrospectively proves to be a turn toward “the metaphysical fixation of man as animal.”94
Man, as he existed prior to the transvaluation of all values, is ‘overcome’ toward animality by the training of a stronger race thanks to the inversion of the metaphysical poles, the sensible and the intelligible. But for that inversion to be effective, it must eventually undo the very distinction between those poles. On the borderline of an economic transition beyond valuative thinking, to overcome metaphysics is, then, to advance toward the uniform and to will it. To overcome metaphysical man means to will ‘mechanization’: “Discipline is the accumulation and purification of forces toward the univocity of a strictly masterable ‘automatism’ in all action.”95 When read from the perspective of technology, what Nietzsche calls the overman’s Zucht und Züchtung, discipline and breeding, comes to stand for the process of planetary standardization. The overman is in no way a goal fixed by men and for men. It is an epochal trait in our economy of presence: “Man erenow has not yet been at all prepared in his essence for the being which, meanwhile, has come to permeate all entities. Yet the necessity reigns in them that man go beyond man erenow.”96 What necessity? The economic necessity according to which the humanist cycle of metaphysics is closed only when entities have been ‘humanized’ worldwide, without remainder. Retrospectively, this is nothing new. The breeding of the overman is as old as the metaphysics of the soul.
Heidegger’s interpretive violence in reading Nietzsche is perhaps most glaring in the context of this last retrospective category.97 In Was heisst Denken? (What Is Called Thinking?), however, he situates the overman differently. His new site is determined by the second meaning of that German book title, What Tells [Us] to Think? If it is the event of presencing that tells us how to think as well as to act, a name other than animal rationale is necessary to describe man obeying the event. That name is ‘overman’. Heidegger’s shift in emphasis is meant less to redress his earlier reading than to place the figure of the overman clearly on the boundary line that closes and encloses metaphysics; to give him the two faces of Janus. Looking backward from that line he is the inverted ‘rational animal’. But looking forward, that figure prefigures a locus outside the “machinery” of “remote-controlled public opinion and the stock-exchange of the culture business,” a locus outside technology,98 outside the struggle of estimations and therefore outside the rationality of dominion. With high and low gone—with technology having successfully abolished all representations endowed with ultimacy—man can follow the arrangements and rearrangements in presence as they come and go. That is what the overman’s other face looks toward. In the words of a commentator, he is “a figure that announces letting-be and meditative thinking.”99 Meditative (be-sinnlich) indeed: following the Sinn, the direction, of the depthless folding and unfolding of the economies. Following pliant being with compliant acting.