In technology, that is to say, in its essence, I
see man standing under a power that
challenges him, over and against which he is
no longer free. In this predicament I see
something announcing itself, namely a
relation of being to man. I see that this
relation, which is concealed in the essence of
technology, might some day come to light in
its unconcealedness.—Whether or not that
will happen, I do not know!
In order to grasp the phenomenon of transition from one economic order to another, the prospective and the retrospective categories do not suffice. Those two sets of traits—‘guiding’ traits, providing a direction, rather than ‘founding’, providing a base—while allowing the phenomenologist to apprehend the sequence of the economies, leave him unequipped for his diacritical task, that of describing the shifts or crises which set eras apart. How can breaks be accounted for as such? It will not do to proclaim with Michel Foucault “the break that separates us from what we can no longer say” and be content with this “diagnosis”: the archaeology “deprives us of our continuities; it dissipates that temporal identity in which we [ . . . ] exorcise the discontinuities in history.”2 Not even in Foucault’s archaeology are discontinuities and differences thinkable without corresponding forms of continuity and identity.3 The question is: in what domain are these forms applicable, competent? If one does not wish to abandon the transcendentalist search for conditions along with its subjectivist casings, there is no other candidate for continuity and identity than such a set of guiding traits. Their attempted rejection marks off French deconstruction from its Heideggerian antecedent.4 To address directly the issue of identity and difference in history, Heidegger gathers into a third class of categories all those characteristics that articulate the thresholds, catastrophes, commotions, breaks in the history of presencing—thresholds, catastrophes, etc., which, even though they set up a new historical world, need not be conspicuous. This third series of features thus deals directly with the phenomena of passage from one site to another. They assign our own times the uncomfortable locus of an end, eschaton, in which a new beginning, an original origin, is taking shape: the end of the economy of epochs as well as of their principles, and the beginning of the economy in which manifold presencing might no longer be obstructed. “Are we the precursors of the dawn of an entirely different world age, which has left our contemporary historicist representations of history behind?” If so, the phenomenology of reversals is eschatological. The epochs, then, run toward their end, and “the long-hidden destiny of being takes its departure.” “Since it is thus fateful, being itself is in itself eschatological.” “A different destiny of being” would set in.5 The categories of transition articulate the crises of the same and the appearance of the other. Only these categories allow us to hold together the entire system which organizes, on one hand, the concepts of archē and principium as well as their phenomenological ‘truth’, the original and the originary, and, on the other, the oppositions accompanying the distinction between metaphysical and non-metaphysical thinking, such as modern/post-modern, subjectivism/anti-humanism, making/letting, constant presence/presencing, consciousness/site (topos), etc. The transitional categories bring into view the phenomena that account for the ‘turning’ as perhaps the most complex historical reversal known—not, of course, the cultural changeovers as they are actually occurring today, but their conformation, their formal identity. Synchronic and diachronie transitions between economies allow us to apprehend the same and the other in the ‘history of being’. If historical identity and difference are situated in these transitions, they remain unintelligible except through the discovery of formal invariables in the reversals. Only a systematization of the traits exhibited by historical crises will, then, yield a play of identity and difference that is purely categorial without ceasing to be ontological. From Kant we learned that what is formal supplies no answer to the ancient question, What is being? Transcendental formalism only answers the question, How is experience possible? With Heidegger, on the contrary, the formal does not serve to dismiss the ontological, at least if it is understood that ‘being’ designates neither some noumenal in-itself nor the mass of raw sense data, but the event of presencing. To attempt a deduction of transitional categories is to advance no farther than to the edge of metaphysics. Here as in its two previous parts, the deduction must borrow its parameters from the history of the beginnings it deconstructs. But this advance, the cutting edge of the enterprise, is not nothing. It is the sting that unnerves all archaeo-teleological desire, the presumed need for an archaeo-teleocratic origin. The call for such an origin sounds edgy as it rings across the edge of the closed field policed by representations guaranteeing satisfaction to that desire and that need.
Here more than in its two previous parts, the deduction has to proceed obliquely. The whole understanding of the transitional categories, which constitute what is most Heideggerian in Heidegger, depends upon the way they are untied from the metaphysical edifice. They grow upon that edifice but at the same time fissure it, threatening to disjoin its most established evidences and, through an oblique split, making room for a “thinking yet to come.”6 This set of categories by no means allows Heidegger to escape from the onto-theological economy. Functioning on its fringe, however, they draft its closure as any border line consititutes the loci it sets apart. Each of these transitional categories thus bears Janus’ face: looking back, it faithfully mirrors the articulations of the metaphysical field in its entirety, while looking ahead, it outlines a possible rule for a possible non-principial play of presencing to come—or perhaps already begun.
The bifocal functioning of this categorial class—in one focus recapitulating the guiding traits of past transitions, traits of “errancy,” and in the other focus anticipating those of a contemporary potential, traits of “homecoming”7—is enacted by the double functioning of technology, according to the way Heidegger reads it in these lines from Hölderlin:
But where there is the danger, there grows
Also what saves.8
“Technology is a modality of unconcealment,” he writes as a commentary on these lines, and in this sense it preserves, protects, safeguards things and humans in their aletheiological essence; but “the unconcealment that rules in modern technology is a provocation,” it is the threat of the “supreme danger,”9 a threat to alētheia. The provocation negates the “free essence”—another name for alētheia.10 Insofar as technology ends a development that started with the Aristotelian notion of technē, we would thus be living today the ultimate metaphysical danger; but since technology, as the culmination of that deep-rooted danger, may put an end to the obfuscation of presencing by ‘principles’, that which saves already announces itself within technology. Hence its two faces. With the one that looks ahead, technology begins to “loose, set free, woo, spare, shelter, safeguard, preserve” presencing.11 The face that looks back sees the world “forced into ruin, the earth into desolation, and man into mere labor.”12 Together they suggest that the principiai rationality may have come full circle, that an economic transition may be taking shape, and that with the might of the possible, a non-principial constellation of presencing makes itself felt. At that moment in history, one eye is not enough. The diagnostician has to look with both eyes and speak of the one phenomenon of transition with a double vocabulary: a vocabulary addressing the subverted as well as the subversive collocation, but not in the same words. The words will not be the same since one can only speak of a situation of simple contiguity from the adjacent fields, of which there are two. In order to grasp the transitive essence of technology we shall thus have to establish a list of terms relating both to the “danger” and to the “salvation” it is capable of providing. The frontline where these two terminological strategies collide, the locus of their impact, is one and simple. The two sets of terms are legitimated by the transcendental phenomenology of technology (it is transcendental since it exhibits the aletheiological, and in that sense universal and necessary, conditions of technology). The recapitulatory and the anticipatory set meet at the line that demarcates life under the rule of pros hen, the rule of the first, from life in what will be called the ‘fourfold’.13 Janus bifrons.
With this last class of guiding traits, Heidegger tries to indicate the step from the actual to the potential, or the transition to the other arrangement that may begin with the technological turning. Construed from the simple phenomenon of bifrontality—and no longer from the beginning or the end of the closed era—they will have to allow for a formal account of the dawning constellation in which presencing would be deprived of the string of referents whose prestige has brought us where we are.
Each transitional category bears two titles. The first makes it a category of closure, and the second, a category of opening, of ‘the other beginning’. Each category strikes twice, it has two angles of incidence, recapitulatory and anticipatory. The transitional categories are the ones that combine recapitulation, Wiederholung, with anticipation, Vorläufigkeit.14 Either title limits the extension of the category under discussion. Thus the first category’s title of closure, ‘ontological difference’, is connected with eon and ‘will to power’; but that title is not applicable beyond the post-modern threshold. This threshold draws the final line under all economies that may be conceived with the help of the ontological difference between entities and their being. The opening title of the first transitional category, ‘world and thing’, likewise limits its extension: in this case, the post-modern threshold functions as the initial trait, as the first lineament outlining a non-principial economy. The structuring of history, its self-regulation, results from the phenomena of breaks which determine the scope of a category’s applicability. For the second leading category, the one that is connected with logos and ‘eternal return’, the title of closure is epochē, but its title of opening is ‘clearing’, Lichtung. Technology brings the epochs—the economies in which presencing ‘withholds’ itself—to a close and inaugurates the ‘clearings’. In epochal history, the hypertrophy of one arch-present entity allows being only to be thematized as chiefly (literally) that entity’s being. In the play of clearings, on the other hand, what will have to be treated as ‘being’ is an ever-shifting, event-like network of relations. The same bifocal incidence applies to all other transitional categories.
For each category, the title of closure and the title of opening—historical recapitulation and anticipation—have to be read as the two sides of one and the same guiding trait. To understand Heidegger otherwise would mean to advocate either utter equivocity between epochal and non-epochal history, utter discontinuity and heteronomy, or, on the contrary, plain univocity, homonymy. The first amounts to utopianism, the second, to historicism. Both make change unthinkable, the one by losing sight of continuity because of a fascination with novelty, the other by losing sight of novelty due to an obsession for continuity. Only the play of categorial identity and difference accounts for economic contiguity without levelling it into sheer continuity. If the categorial texture persists beyond the breaks, it follows that the anarchic economy cannot be sharply demarcated from the principial. The dividing line becomes blurred. From one terrain to the other we find economic novelty as well as continuance. From the field structured by technological enframing to the field structured by the future-oriented titles of the transitional categories, there is “no mere sequence”; rather, “there is always a passing by and simultaneity,”15 contiguity. The very persistence of the categorial text throughout the economic breaks compels one to maintain predicative identity, but also difference in scope, regarding each of these transitional traits.
The epigraph above indicates, once again, the source which legitimates these transitional categories and from which emanate, consequently, the prospective and retrospective categories as well: that source lies neither in the solitary experience a certain Martin Heidegger is said to have had of Being,16 nor in the simple return to Presocratic experiences,17 but in a phenomenology of the double-faced essence of technology.18 To the extent that technology essentially “threatens” and “saves” at the same time, it locates for our epoch the play of categorial continuity and discontinuity. From the viewpoint of what I have called the temporal difference, it is the violence in the way technological presence differs from presencing that makes a threshold appear in the contemporary economy.
This entire effort at laying bare the historical categories of presencing will entail consequences for political praxis. But such consequences will arise from an angle quite unlike the one that might be expected. Especially in the context of the transitional categories some commentators have imagined they caught Heidegger dreaming of a better world, a world to come, and waiting for it.19 This amounts to confusing the categorial and the empirical. Heidegger does not draft tomorrow’s world, but he outlines the formal features which, for better or for worse, apply when ultimate referents lose their credibility. Should the “relation of being to man” “some day come to light in its unconcealedness,” nothing guarantees that life would for that reason be more livable. The ‘saving essence’ of technology does not hold any automatic salvation in stock for man. It designates a modification in unconcealedness such that no standards are reliable any longer in private and public life—most of all, public—and that life has nothing else to conform itself to but the event of presencing. It is that event which is ‘saved’. In the interview quoted in the epigraph above, Heidegger indeed goes on to say: “I see in the essence of technology the first brightening (Vorschein) of a much deeper mystery, which I call ‘event.’ ”20
Heidegger’s disinterest in our concrete future (which we shall have to examine in greater detail) runs quite deep. If the anticipatory incidence of all transitional categories entails a modification in unconcealedness, and if that modification consists in the withering away of ultimate representations, then it is useless to look for any authority capable of deciding whether such a decline will be to our advantage or disadvantage. For that, we will have to rely on the thoughtfulness of present and future actors. Any other reference game would constitute pure speculation, pure dogmatic construction. In a phrase that is not Heidegger’s, it would amount to “German ideology.”21 From the transcendental ‘subject’ of Idealism, to the Dasein of the Existential Analytic, to the ‘thinking’ of the Topology of being, the discourse on man progressively deprives itself of the very possibility of approving or condemning, and especially of commending, concrete behavior, whether individual or collective. And if the hypothesis of metaphysical closure nevertheless leads eventually to a certain discourse on action, this will be devoid of any criterion other than the ‘plurification’ of presencing. That discourse on action futhermore remains entirely confined to the situation—ours—described by the contiguity of ‘principles’ and ‘anarchy’. The solution radical phenomenology brings to bear on its assignment of deconstructing the normative principles—the solution obtained through the historical deduction of the three categorial classes—does not therefore consist in predicting any reconciliation of the antagonisms that rend our century, but in examining concrete economic sites in history (Presocratic, Platonic, and technological) so as to gather from them the features that have ‘always already’ been operative throughout Western history. The lineaments of transition thus emerge and become legible only with technology: read backward from that turning, they manifest a recapitulatory incidence on each reversal since the Greeks; read forward, they exhibit an anticipatory incidence on a contemporary potential, which it is the task of thinking to set free. “Preparatory thinking does not wish and is not able to predict any future.”22 Having ascertained and shown the conditions of the technological turning, it cannot shift from the ontological to the ontic and describe what the political, economical, social, technical or scientific facts will be: “Neither the political, nor the economical, nor the sociological, nor the technical and scientific, nor even the religious or metaphysical perspectives are adequate to think what is happening in this age of the world.”23
What is happening is that a new set of categories is becoming thinkable which sheds an entirely formal light on both the past and the future. As the site from which one class of categories manifests itself, technology is thus ‘ecstatic’ in its own way. Dasein’s three temporal modes of being ‘outside itself’ turn out to be derivative of “the epochal essence of being,” which in turn is dependent on being as the event.24 One may presume that the transition from Dasein’s temporality to that of being, which remains unthinkable in Being and Time, consists mainly in this transmutation of the ecstases. They persist in the later context but are no longer reducible to a self, to any aspect of man. To dismiss the categorial novelty as it appears in that turning would amount to “killing the being of entities.”25 In order to articulate the reversal wherein the principles decay, one must find words which, as said earlier, are no longer ‘fundamental’, but only ‘guiding’. They guide thought through its inventory of the possible accents of a possible economy. The point in drafting these guiding words—the transitional categories—is to think a mode of presence that may substitute itself for the one Heidegger calls ‘enframing’. Such a substitute economy, whose first guiding words are ‘world and thing’, announces itself with the technological age inasmuch as “in the destiny of being there is never a mere sequence: now the enframing, then world and thing; rather, there is always a passing by and simultaneity of the early and the late.”26
The first prospective category, eon, indicated how the difference between present entities and their presencing could become an issue at all and how it could give way to the distinction between entities and their beingness. From its inception, that problematic has indeed been ‘ontological’: present entities were conceived in relation to what is other than they, transcends them, and is one. This has been called “being.”27 From Parmenides through Being and Time, although in many guises, the ontological difference has been operative in the model of transcendence: “Being is the transcendens pure and simple.”28 “We surmount entities in order to reach being.”29
The first retrospective category, the will to power, revealed how the transcendental essence of the difference has worked to the advantage of knowledge, of explanation, of mastery over entities, in short, to the advantage of man; how an interest in quite another overcoming has been operative under the guise of a sought-for ‘science of being’ or science of the metaphysical difference, namely the interest in man’s self-overcoming; how, consequently, from the Socratic turn onward, the difference could lapse into a simple reduplication affecting man; and how this forgetting of the phenomenological difference culminates in the technological reduplication of the ‘will to will’.
The transitional category corresponding to eon and will to power reveals the many ways in which, at each reversal in the history of metaphysics, the difference has articulated transcendence—the ways it has articulated itself as transcendence. Furthermore, this category is the first to point out a strategy at work today which denatures the law of ‘humanist’ overcoming and transforms it into an ‘economic’ overcoming: into the transition, this time, beyond the metaphysical field in its entirety. As it opens a breach in the internal regulation of that field, this category equips one to think the transgression of the very domain of principial competence. Under the hypothesis of closure, ‘ontological difference’ becomes the general title for the oppositions between the One and the many, being and entities, being and thought, all oppositions inherited from Parmenides. Since these oppositions are so many forms of transcendence, a radical phenomenology of simple presencing will have to renounce the ontological difference. For the principially bound play of entities and their being, it substitutes the free play between thing and world.
Here is the key text in Heidegger showing his dismissal of the ontological difference (the category of ‘event’ will be taken up later): “With the event of appropriation, it becomes necessary to free thinking from the ontological difference. From the perspective of the event of appropriation, this relation now shows itself as the relation of world and thing, a relation that could, in a first approximation and in a certain way, still be understood as the relation between being and entities; but then its proper characteristics would be lost.”30 In order to grasp at their core the various breakdowns by which social scientists describe the twentieth century it would thus be necessary to lay bare one radical transmutation: that in which the difference between being and entity turns into the difference between world and thing. If this transmutation is indeed radical, it will enable us not only to unfold past epochal folds, but more decisively to free ourselves for another foldure.
What is so innovational about speaking of the ‘world’ in its relation to thing’? What do these words mean if the age-old treatises concerning ousia and on, esse and ens, being and entity bespeak the “loss” of world and thing? “What, then, is the thing as thing, that its essence has never yet been able to appear?”31 A formidable question in what it affirms, what it denies, and what it asks: (1) it affirms the old on hē on, entity qua entity, but by substituting for it the phrase “thing as thing”; (2) it denies that the essence of the thing has ever yet been able to appear; and (3) it asks what the thing may well be in order for its essence to have remained obscured ever since Aristotle set out to investigate the entity qua entity. Here is where that threefold questioning leads Heidegger: “If we let the thing unfold its essence in its thinging from out of the worlding world, then we think of the thing as thing.”32 With its overwrought verbs (both in German and English) and its deliberate tautologies, this phrasing is perhaps more complicated than the situation it describes. Implied, it seems, is that the question of presencing has been raised originally as that of a difference. That difference soon came to stand for transcendence (on and ousia) and reduplication (on hē on). In order to dispel the illusion of prehension in these two representations of the difference, being is to be understood again as a process—hence the verb coinages—of a self-display: hence the tautologies. With the category ‘world and thing’, the qua is transmuted. Heidegger’s entire effort here consists in trying to suggest that the world, or contextuality, announces itself in the “as”—the thing “as” thing. This deals a blow to transcendence, since the world is not elsewhere than the thing, as well as to reduplication, since the thing is not just reaffirmed in its flat givenness. The category ‘world and thing’ is Heidegger’s ultimate effort to protect the being question from “trivialization.”33 What motivates it is the desire for a gaze freed from any dogmatic blur. A phenomenon is taken as what it is only when we understand it as gathering its context, as ‘worlding’. And the context is taken as such only when we understand it as gathering the phenomenon, as ‘thinging’.
The weakness of this paraphrase in terms of context and phenomenon is that it tends to neutralize Heidegger’s anti-subjectivist thrust. No anthropocentrism can be construed from ‘world and thing’. Indeed, the understanding of world here abolishes all structures of self-transcendency. This concept no longer relates to “being-in-the-world” as the “a priori necessary constitution of Dasein.”34 Since it is anti-transcendental in that sense, it operates without any reference to man. The anti-humanism of radical phenomenology is thus only the most striking aspect of the step from Dasein’s being—the ‘transcendens pure and simple’—back to its decentered or ex-centric condition, the interplay of ‘worlding’ and ‘thinging’. If Heidegger emphasises ‘the thing’ as it emerges, accedes to presence, conjointly with ‘the world’ it establishes, his strategy is to suggest an interplay deprived of its center, man. Therefore the ‘world’ can no longer designate here “worldliness,” “itself an existentiale.” The world is no longer discovered as “equi-originary” with the self and others.35 The moment the world ceases to be seen as the structuring element of Dasein, men—’the mortals’—find themselves, as it were, marginalized. They only enter as one of the elements into the ‘fourfold’, the autonomous play of the world. How is such a play, the self-structuring of the world, thinkable if it cannot be thematized in terms of the kosmos transcending the onta, nor the mundus transcending the res, nor even of the world as Dasein’s ‘transcendental’ being?
The world continues to be thought of as structuring the thing a priori and, in that sense, as constituting it. The essence of a thing lies in its gathering temporally, that is, ‘staying’, the four dimensions of the world. “Each thing stays the fourfold into a gathering in which the simplicity of the world lingers for a while.”36 As it provides a context, ‘worlding’, for the thing, the world makes it come to pass, conditions (be-dingt) it. But such translation into the idiom of a priori constitution, too, sheds only partial light on this leading category since appearance and cognition are precisely not at issue in it. Nor is the world to be conceived spatially as exceeding the thing (the way a galaxy exceeds a star by encompassing it and thereby fixing it in its place). If the double unfolding of the world and of the thing is a mutual staying, Verweilen,37 then Heidegger’s thought schema is more temporal than spatial. In the thing, the world is there for a while. Nor does the self-structuring of the world precede the thing as its transcendental horizon. How could a thing transcend itself? Heidegger’s shift from man’s transcending to the thing’s ‘thinging’ puts an end to all construals of horizons, a construal that remained still tacitly operative when he called the world as set up by the artwork, “more fully in being,” seiender, than any object present.38 With the gradual reformulation of his understanding of the world—first ‘world and being-there’, then ‘world and earth’, finally ‘world and thing’—Heidegger effaces the horizon of transcendence. Its place and function are assumed by the economic “injunctions.”39
This replacement marks the displacement from inside to outside the metaphysical arena. The step from ‘being-there’ to ‘the thing’ amounts to an egress, a transgression of the closure. It is Heidegger’s decisive yet complex move toward unfolding the anti-principial potential in technology. As such, it is misread as long as one seeks anything less in it than an economic passage, affirming and cancelling—that is, transmuting—the ancient on hē on. That passage, which after subjective transcendentalism tempts thinking and is attempted in thinking, can be spelled out according to the three observations made earlier. (1) Of the difference between “the entity for which being is always at stake” and “that being itself” (the transcendental difference of Being and Time), only the features of identity in difference are preserved formally in the new locus: before the dislocation, those features of identity in difference are the existentialia that unite being-there and its world; after, they are the dimensions of the ‘fourfold’ that unite the thing and its world. (2) The economic concept of injunction or address—“the constellation of being addresses us”40—allows Heidegger to argue that the phenomenological essence of the ontological difference was never able to appear as long as ‘being’ continued to function, overtly or tacitly, as a principle of transcendence, and, as such, a principle of causal explanation, of moral betterment, in short, as a principle of epochal arch-teleocracy. At the moment of a possible transition from the technological economy (the terminal effect of metaphysics, just like the book, Being and Time) to the economy of the ‘fourfold’, the res becomes the ‘thing’ whose “essence has never yet been able to appear,”41 “the world all of a sudden (Jäh) worlds as the world,”42 and “the living entities endowed with reason must still become mortals.”43 The ‘injunctions’ are nothing but the forms of economic regularity, they convey to us “the way in which everything renders itself present.”44 When Heidegger is asked to account for the injunction his own thinking obeys, he can therefore do no more than point to our historical site by which it is “bound to the essential destiny of being,” bound by “the turning (Kehre) of the oblivion of being, the turning that announces itself in being’s destiny.”45 (3) Lastly, it becomes clear why the thing has never yet been able to appear in its essence. To understand the thing otherwise than as a piece of the world, a practical condition has to be met: one must first let it be. This requirement, letting-be as the properly phenomenological attitude, is irreducible to the earlier laying of foundations and the opening of transcendence, that is, to any quest for a philosophical science. A specific practice (whose nature remains to be examined) thus imposes itself with the discovery of pliant economic regularities. As the post-metaphysical a priori it replaces all theoretical frameworks of ground and of transcendence. The ‘rational animal’ seeks both to ground and transcend the given; but the ‘mortals’, complying solely with the fourfold, let the given be.
The ontological difference—the recapitulatory incidence of this first transitional category—is constituted by an act of overcoming, of ‘stepping beyond’ entities. The difference between world and thing, on the other hand, that is, its anticipatory incidence, is constituted by a “step backward.”46 To ‘overcome metaphysics’ thus amounts to a displacement of ‘overcoming’, namely, from transcendence as construed in metaphysics to transgression as articulated by the anticipatory incidences of these categories. Working toward the site indicated by the hypothesis of closure requires, then, giving up transcendence and letting oneself be determined by the things alone and their mode of presencing. With the substitution of the anticipatory for the recapitulatory incidence of this category, certain economic factors—the collusion between pricipium and princeps, between an epochal referent of presence and centralized power—would fall into forgottenness; others, such as the ancient proofs for the existence of a supreme entity, would sink into indifference; and yet others, the very principles toward which the rational animal transcended the world, would simply become impossible. That substitution would not only allow, as all reversals in history do, for new things to emerge from forgottenness, indifference and impossibility; it would furthermore free them from the universalist overdeterminations with which the Western mind has covered up radical finitude. The double incidence of the first transitional category allows one to think of things not according to their unchangeable essence, but in their singularity, unheardof since the Greeks. The identity of the fourfold dimensions of the world and the difference in ‘thinging’ set the coordinates for what both Aristotle and Hegel have held to be impossible and what non-phenomenological critics of technology can only do selectively, for instance, through an aesthetics: think the particular as particular.47
When so read as Heidegger’s attempt to dare unshielded finitude, his replacement of the ontological difference with the difference between world and thing can obviously not be confused with the gesture of some Great Refusal, as if he wished to “reject the old, decrepit world, Christian, metaphysical and bourgeois.”48 The substitution works rather on the level of the a priori: “The a priori is the title for the essence of the thing. According to how the thingness of the thing and the being of entities is understood, so also is the a priori and its priority interpreted.”49 Philosophy, to be at all able to think the manifold things, has traditionally stabilized them by transcending the res, the ens, the object toward their reality, entity, objectivity, and by terming “being of entities” what it has so ascertained.50 Such ascertainment produces the metaphysical difference. Each way of transcending the given responds to one historical modality of presence. With these modalities a new difference appears, namely, between reality, entity, objectivity, and other versions of ‘beingness’ on one hand, and presencing as an event—‘being’ as emergence—on the other. What so appears is the phenomenological difference. It operates like a corrosive and disjoins the jointings by which entities have been colligated into being as particulars are into a universal or as the transcended is into the transcending. It is, then, not enough to wrest the phenomenon of singular emergence, of ‘thinging’, from the economic surfaces of history; that phenomenon would have to be thought of otherwise than in terms of inherited distinctions. What conceptual language cannot achieve, the distinction between world and thing can at least suggest: heeding this pitcher, this bridge, for its own sake as its world comes to pass in it. It then becomes apparent that the metaphysical difference overdetermines the thing, does not take care of it, and is forgetful of the world as it comes about in the thing. The phenomenological difference between beingness and being reveals that obscuration of the particular by the universal; but only the difference between world and thing can ‘accuse’ finite emergence as such.
When raised in terms of the category ‘world and thing’, that is, in terms that address the originary as an event, the question of presencing is no longer merely adumbrated by the deconstruction of metaphysics. It is taken out of the perimeter that has defined metaphysics. From its new site, one can recapitulate the traditional answers brought to bear on that question and observe that “the received determination of the ‘thingness’ of the thing, that is, of the being of entities”51 conceals rather than reveals the thing. In its stead, the received constructs direct our gaze to the thing’s nature or its essence. No answer can fall outside the premises set by the question; if it does, it ceases to be an answer to the question. Thus the metaphysical question of being receives the answer it prepares, beingness; the phenomenological question, being; and the question that anticipates another site, the answer, “thingness of the thing.”52 If ‘thingness’ here is to be understood as ‘thinging’, as an event, then this answer comes closer to the new site. Constructs of transcendence, on the contrary, “skip over the things surrounding us and over the interpretation of their ‘thingness’.”53 The deconstruction of the onto-theological era therefore cannot give up that era’s premises, which is why the category of ontological difference is applicable only to a recapitulation of the epochs. At the extreme of that era, technology’s “constellation of being is the denial of world, in the form of injurious neglect of the thing.”54 The full category of transition must complement the recapitulatory title with an anticipatory title. The difference that points to a non-metaphysical site appears when the question of being is addressed to the oriri as such: it is the difference between world and thing, their juncture understood as an always particular occurrence.
Under the hypothesis of the metaphysical closure, the ‘denial of world’ and ‘the injurious neglect of the thing’ have had their time, namely, the era in which the difference has taken on the form of transcendence, in which it has been ontological. On the other hand, it will be recalled that the second prospective category, phusis, indicated the impossibility of unshaded presencing. It implied an essential concealment, of which that denial and that injurious neglect are the epochal features. From the recapitulatory perspective of the difference between entities and their being, phusis be-speaks a twofold absence, at the periphery and at the heart of any past order of presence: the peripheral, ontic absence of the entities excluded by the epochē, and, at the heart, the ontological absence of presencing as event, as phuein or oriri.
The question now is: Does this corresponding transitional category indicate a possible, thinkable cancellation of obfuscation and concealment, of forgetfulness of each and every movement of withdrawal proper to phusis? The peripheral, ontic absence of entities in the anticipatory categorial modes will have to be examined later in the context of legein and the ‘clearing’. Here we need to know whether with the transgression of being as articulated by the ontological difference concealment, too, becomes inoperative. What exactly does it mean to say that with the (possible) post-technological reversal ‘the denial of world’ and ‘the injurious neglect of the thing’ come to an end? The following argument indeed seems unavoidable: in the ‘destinal’ constellations of the difference, brought into relief by the recapitulatory category “there is,”55 presencing as event—or being qua phusis—withholds itself (epechein); but with the transgression of the metaphysical closure, “the being that rests on destiny is no longer the proper issue for thought.”56 Would the anticipatory title that corresponds to phusis then eliminate its most originary trait, the conjunction of presencing and absencing in one katēgorein? Would the essentially ambiguous Presocratic experience of presencing lose its paradigmatic character with the anticipatory title of this transitional category? If the ontological difference is to become inoperative with the turning, will presencing no longer imply even the possiblity of denial and neglect? Quite as happiness for Plato is the possession of the subsisting Good, does “authentic thinking, assuming that one day it will be granted someone,”57 consist in the full possession of presencing, in a total presence that stills all desire and all absence?
That way of arguing can avail itself of the retrospective category that corresponds to phusis, nihilism. Inasmuch as presencing has remained concealed behind unconcealed entities, nihilism pervades the entire ontotheological arena. Nihilism means that presencing is worth nothing for man. But—and this is where Heidegger’s attempt to help us extricate ourselves from nihilistic metaphysics by “thinking of being” can be misconstrued—“as oblivion turns about, the safekeeping of being comes to pass.”58 With the ontological difference transmuted into the difference between world and thing—with ‘world’ torn from nihilism—being would not fall into forgottenness any longer. This is a good reason, it seems, for Heidegger to give the second transitional category the anticipatory title of “favor,” Gunst.59 It also makes it look plausible to speak of “the favor as yet ungranted” that “the world comes to pass as world and that the thing things.”60 ‘Favor’ is that one of the two faces of technology which looks toward the future. To understand whether, for Heidegger, there is indeed full light ahead of us it is necessary to show how this category joins the two Janus perspectives into an event.
The ‘there is’, the incidence of technology upon the epochs behind us, works as the phenomenological lever for deconstructing those epochs. In that sense, ‘there is’, es gibt, is a phrase that speaks of destiny: the epochs ‘give’ themselves, they reach us each time in a finite constellation of presence. To say es gibt Sein, “there is being,” and es gibt Zeit, “there is time”61—and this point has not always received sufficient attention—is still to speak of the era read through the ontological difference. Beyond the line that demarcates anarchic from archic presence one can no more say es gibt than one can speak of being and time. “Does the name for the task of thinking then read, instead of Being and Time: clearing and presence?”62 (One would have expected, “clearing and presencing.”) Heidegger’s “attempt to think being without regard for its groundedness in entities”63 amounts to dismissing the English ‘there is’ and the German es gibt since both entail “the relation to man.”64 As the anticipatory categorial incidence, ‘favor’ is a trait which is in no way ‘humanist’; which is no longer epochal and therefore also not destinai; which speaks of no transcendence, nor of any figure of the ontological difference; and which, lastly, is irreducible to the hidden problematic of metaphysics, the relation between being and time. In Heraclitus, Gunst translates as philia, which is a predicate of the pre-metaphysical notion of phusis.65
Favor is said to come about with the reversal whereby the preservation (Wahrheit in the sense of Wahrnis, safekeeping) of presencing replaces forgottenness.66 But this is not to say that with the exit from the era of the ontological difference and of the ‘destiny of being’, all denial and all concealment are henceforth eradicated. The leave taken from principial thinking does not lead us to full possession, to the proper and to inalienable property. Such is not the meaning of Ereignis, event of appropriation. It will be remembered that phusis was also the most explicitly temporal prospective category. In the corresponding transitional category, this temporality reintroduces withholding and denial into the favor, although the withholding is no longer an epechein, and the denial no longer a denial of world. The word Gunst, favor, derives from a verb (in modern German, gönnen) which, just as geben, “to give,” signifies “to grant, to bestow.” The break between destinal giving (“there is,” es gibt) and eventful giving (“favor,” Gunst)—between presencing within and outside the closure—operates via the respective modalities of time: “One may speak of denial and withholding even in the event of appropriation, insofar as they concern the way in which there is time.”67 The temporality of the historical fields instituted by constellations of the ontological difference is epochal: this word designates precisely the scansion of being through successive reversals in which ‘being as such’ denies and withholds itself. The anticipated temporality, on the other hand, is no longer epochal. It is a finite temporality, not thought of in relation to any form of transcendence. It “is no longer thought in terms of the relations to infinity, but rather as finitude in itself: finitude, end, limit, the proper”—this last term understood as the proper site established by the topological analysis, Erörterung (“situation”).68
The problematic of transition must thus be followed up in two directions: the direction of the concealment-unconcealment operative in ‘world’ and ‘favor’, and the direction of the specific finitude which, under those same anticipatory titles, takes over from the ‘epochs’. The anticipated concealment-unconcealment and the associated finitude will indicate in what sense the discourse on presencing must, after ‘the other beginning’, remain an economic one. The next two categories follow those two directions.
The prospective category alētheia designated a play of hiding and showing whose variations make the epochs. Each reversal articulates anew what remains hidden or concealed and what is shown or disclosed, so that a crisis in history appears as a redistribution of shade and light, as a rearrangement of the ‘clearing’ within which life and thought are possible for a while. The corresponding retrospective category, justice, shows conformation to have been an anthropocentric undertaking since the Greeks. Such notions as homoiōsis, adaequatio, ‘justice’ have had the effect of committing lēthein and concealment to oblivion and of restricting unconcealment to a human comportment: assimilation to the Good, assertion of correct judgments, and finally justice done to chaos.
Under the anticipatory incidence of the transitional category which corresponds to alētheia and to justice, the hiding-showing can be neither epochal nor humanist.69 Indeed, what is the ‘favor’ that announces itself in the danger of transition and thanks to which the ‘world’ can appear as a self-regulating play, as the ‘fourfold’? “In the essence of the danger a favor dwells and prevails, namely, the favor that the oblivion of being turn about into the truth of being. . . . We have thought the truth of being in the worlding of world as the mirror play of the fourfold of sky and earth, mortals and divinities. When oblivion turns about, when world as the safekeeping of being’s essence turns in, then there comes to pass (ereignet) the lightning stroke of world.”70 As if to point out the threshold upon which the Ereignis, event of appropriation, starts coming into play, Heidegger adds: “The lightning stroke is the event in which the constellation of the turning [comes about] in the very essence of being, and that in the epoch of enframing (des Gestells)”71 The categorial transition from ‘unconcealment’ to ‘event of appropriation’ is datable: it occurs with contemporary technology.
What is called ‘the event’ of appropriation here would thus be setting in with technological enframing. Technology is “the liminal appearance of the event of appropriation,” the limen of a possible era determined solely by surface fluctuations. “Between the epochal formations of being and its transformation into the event of appropriation stands enframing.”72 The most pertinent description the phenomenology of reversals can give of this turning is that it is “the entry into dwelling in the event of appropriation.”73 These threshold metaphors must not hide the fact that the event of appropriation has been operative ‘always already’, although it emerges from the rubble of principles only with technology.74 Also, if principial constructs could foul its recognition, this indicates that the event of appropriation is simultaneously an event of expropriation. The very possibility of ‘denial’ and ‘neglect’ must be traced to this ultimate, although radically finite, condition of the self-structuring designated by the categories of world and of favor. Expropriation, Enteignis, accounts for the tendency toward negativity in a given economy—all and any negativity in all and any economy. It accounts for concealment (lēthē) in unconcealment, which in turn accounts for withholding (epechein) in the epochs. It is the undertow in all surface fluctuations. “The event of appropriation is in itself an event of expropriation; this word takes up, in a manner commensurate with the event, the early Greek lēthē, in the sense of concealment.”75 The play of appropriation and expropriation conveys something alētheia cannot say. This shows once again how mistaken one would be to place Heidegger in the company of the German Romantics and to read in him a ploy for reviving experiences inspired by pre-classical Greece.
The anticipatory incidence of this transitional category, ‘event’ as the play of appropriation and expropriation, thus reveals a ‘motility’. This is opposed to the ‘destiny of being’ as the anticipatory incidence is to the recapitulatory incidence: “The absence of destiny from the event of appropriation does not imply that it lacks all ‘motility.’ ”76 In Anaximander, we saw that the early Greek understanding of alētheia indicates in entities a movement of arrival from absence, lingering in presence, and withdrawal back into absence. This is no longer the way hiding-showing is thought of here. Heidegger suggests two paths toward understanding ‘expropriation’: the event supersedes epochal-destinal unconcealment in such a way that, firstly, “it can be retained neither as being nor as time; it is, so to speak, a neutrale tantum, the neutral ‘and’ in the title ‘Time and Being.’ ”77 The motility of appropriation and expropriation is secondly thematized in relation to the fourfold. These two paths are however no more than suggested. The seminar dealing with this ‘motility’ cuts short the discussion of the “expropriation that belongs essentially to appropriation. This includes the question: expropriation whither? The direction and sense of this question were not discussed any further.”78 The event of appropriation-expropriation is the thought of the most tenuous issue for philosophy ever and therefore a tenuous thought, only to be hinted at. It is the thought of the phenomena’s simple entering, always particular and precarious, into intercourse.
One can nevertheless attempt to follow three ways of access. (1) If the event of appropriation is to be understood along the lines of the neutral ‘and’ as well as of the ‘fourfold’, the concealment which, as expropriation, is operative in it cannot be broached through questions either about man or about entities that are epochally present or absent. Such arrival and withdrawal of entities within the arena where man is co-present to them was precisely stressed by the recapitulatory incidence, ‘unconcealment’. But neither the ‘and’ nor the ‘fourfold’ refers to entities or man. The concept of event (if it can be called a concept) is, in a sense, the one most devoid of content that is conceivable. It carries less beingness than Aristotle’s category of relation. Indeed: (2) To think being and time “is to think of the most difficult thought of philosophy, namely, being as time.”79 The play of appropriation and expropriation seems to address this ‘as’ prior to, and without regard for, being and time. In the most difficult thought of philosophy—since it entails breaking with philosophy—being “disappears.”80 This ‘as’, always finite and always other, would be permeated with a motility of its own. It would be the locus of the motility that hides and shows. In these hints one should see primarily a way of stating that the moving constellations of presencing continue to operate beyond the metaphysical closure: no longer (as indicated by the next transitional category) in an ‘epochal’ fashion, but acknowledged as inconstant, transient. (3) The ‘fourfold’ does not signify anything other than the constellations—no longer of entities, nor even of presence and absence—of the event in which the particular ‘presences’. In the idiom borrowed from Hölderlin, it signifies the ceaseless newness with which ‘the earth and the sky, the gods and the mortals’ determine ‘the thing’, each thing.
Heidegger describes that newness as so radical that one wonders whether it is still possible to speak of things in terms of species and genera. Manifestly, the movement of expropriation accuses extreme finitude. The category of ‘event’ complements that of ‘world and thing’ in pointing out the process character in that finitude. It brings into focus, not the present particular, but a particular presencing as particular, that is, as permeated with its unique negativity. While ‘unconcealment’, the recapitulatory incidence of this third category, indicates general constellations of presence endowed with a certain duration, its anticipatory incidence, the ‘event’, scatters the general, disregards even the particular thing, and fragments any thought-content other than this or that presencing singularized by its distinct absencing. Such plurification is impossible to transcend and thinkable only as a movement of ‘rising’ or ‘clearing’.
Legein, it will be recalled, was the second guiding category among the prospective ones, and the ‘eternal return’, the second among the retrospective categories. Both addressed the self-structuring, Selbstauslegung, of presencing into a field of presence. They described how presencing ‘interprets itself’, renders itself explicit, unfolds. From the transitional viewpoint, it appears that presencing articulates itself in ‘epochs’ only inside the closed field of onto-theology. Epechein, it will also be recalled, signifies the self-withholding of presencing throughout the ages of metaphysics, the ‘forgottenness of being’. The danger which grows as metaphysics tightens its grip in the form of technology is nothing but this epechein. “The danger is the epoch of being.”81 But since the category ‘world and thing’ as well as the two that depend on it, ‘favor’ and ‘event’, are traits of presencing independently of its groundedness in present entities, under the hypothesis of metaphysical closure one can no longer speak of epochē. Expressions such as “epoch in which being qua being withholds itself,” “epoch of the withdrawal”82 have then something pleonastic about them. Instead of ‘epoch’, the phenomenology of the turning has to speak of Selbstlichtung, “self clearing.”83
The hypothesis of withering epochs may seem to cancel what has just been shown regarding the ‘event’, namely, that the transitional categories do not in any way anticipate a total self-giving of presencing, its shadowless reception, its possession without expropriation. And it is true that their function is not to break the seal of concealment and let daylight in on full presence. World, favor and event remain shot through with denial and retention. They remain finite. These titles even indicate the extreme consequence of the modern discovery of finitude. The second guiding category now brings precisely the modality of such radical finitude into relief. The decay of the epochs will not seem incompatible with the persistence of concealment in unconcealment, once it is understood that with the transgression of the closure presencing is not finite the way the epochs were. If, as has been shown, the legein gathers being and entities diversely according to the epochs, then ‘epoch’ designates the irruption of a new constellation of the ontological difference into entities such that its verbal-nominal function (eon) itself does not appear. To think the eon freed from principiai overdeterminations—to think it, not in its Greek, but in its post-technological constellation, hence not as eon—means to think a double legesthai, double like Janus’s face. The trait of ‘gathering’ has to be traced through two sites, separated by the closure. Looking back, one would see the epochs of philosophy extending from Plato to that “site in which the whole of its history gathers itself in its most extreme possibility.”84 This first site, the extreme of the history of metaphysics, is technology. Looking forward, “thinking may, one day, no longer shun the question whether the clearing, the free opening, is not the site in which alone pure space and ecstatic time, as well as everything present and absent in them, are gathered and sheltered.”85 This second site, the extreme of the old problems of time and space as well as of the entities appearing within them, is the locus toward which the technological threshold is to be transgressed.
In the first locus of gathering, technology, philosophy “comes to an end.” It follows that its second locus, the “clearing” (Lichtung in the active sense), operates beyond the consummation of philosophy as that constituted discourse whose essence is the same as technology’s: “Of the clearing, philosophy knows nothing.”86
The clearing remains akin to the epochē, which it replaces, by the sudden revealings of presencing, as if by lightning strokes. The metaphor of clearing must thus not be taken to suggest a patch of light, be it conceived as lumen naturale87 or as a “fixed stage with a permanently raised curtain,”88 but a fulguration; not an open field, but the opening up of a field; not a glade in a forest, but (to pursue the sylvan metaphor dear to Heidegger) the very felling of the wood. It must be taken to evoke a setting-out, but not an arrangement settled-in; an event of ‘standing out’ (herausstehen) from concealment, but not the opposite of concealment. So metaphorized, the event of clearing explicitly links the process of absencing to the process of presencing. It also links the peripheral absence of certain entities to the presence of those given by a clearing. This anticipatory title addresses the “bolt” (ϰεϱαυνός) of gathering both as it includes entities in the realm of presence and as it excludes others that remain absent.89 The concept of clearing differs from that of epochē in that it makes explicit the absencing within presencing. In the movement of emergence, of coming into the light of day, in the dawn, it greets both the night that holds back the nascent clarity, and the day that tears the brightening from it. The concept of clearing negates the epochal negation of absencing within presencing, it negates the forgottenness of concealment. To think of presencing as an event of clearing means to think of it in itself and in such a way that absencing is ‘retrieved’ in it. The clearing literally imparts, gives to present entities their share of presence and to absent entities their share of absence. Its categorial stress, however, lies not on (ontic) availability or unavailability, but on the imparting and the giving, or the alleviating and lightening, the lifting-off from oblivion.
The prospective category of logos already functioned as the dispensation of a place or a site, as situation. The logos divided the sum of entities into those present to and those absent from a given economy. It emphasized the arrival of entities in presence and thus, too, ‘accused’ the path from absence to presence. But strictly speaking, legein is not the event of preseneing. Rather, it is, as will be recalled, the setting apart, the factor of differentiation that accounts for economic inclusions and exclusions as well as for the sequence of historical epochs. Logos is what allows Heidegger to think being as history of being, as destinal time. But for that very reason, logos is not sufficient for thinking the end of the “stampings of being,”90 nor, put positively, “the possibility of a path toward presence.”91 This question of the possibility of wresting entities from absence points beyond the epochs. What responds to that question is the event of clearing. Under the name of ‘clearing’, the economies, which are ontic and describable, are explicitly thought of as a function of ontological and transcendental presencing. ‘Clearing’ is a category of a transcendental phenomenology that can dispense with the ‘history of being’ as the systematic link to descriptive phenomenology. The retrospective category, the eternal return, was unfit even for suggesting such a condition of possibility, so exclusive was the reference to man around whom technology orders all things into a circle of availability. The fixity of that circle makes concealment in general unthinkable. It makes it even impossible to understand how entities can remain shut out, absent, from any economy. The pretense to total presence thus proceeds under the trait of eternal return, not of clearing.92 If ‘clearing’ is the word by which Heidegger seeks to think presencing independently of its epochal scansions, this category stresses precisely the movement of absencing in presencing, the undertow away from constant presence, and thereby originary time or the event. “Time . . . is the clearing of being itself.”93
It is not the least of ironies that such a transgression of the epochal regime in its entirety should be made possible by the technological danger or peril: “The essence of the danger conceals the possibility of a turning in which the forgottenness of being’s essential unfolding so turns about that, with this turning, the truth of the essence of being properly turns in—turns homeward—into entities.”94 When, with technology, the thought of the event of appropriation and of the clearing becomes epochally possible, the epochs wither away. This decay provides thought with what will henceforth be its sole issue: “instead of ‘Being and Time,’ ” “clearing and present[ing].” “The task of thinking would then be to relinquish all thinking until now to the determination of [that] issue for thinking.”95 Under the reign of epochal principles the absence that characterizes the event remains unthinkable. To work through the philosophy born under their aegis, to surrender the epochē to the ‘clearing’, is to espouse the precarious in place of the principial, the phenomenal surface in place of unshakeable foundations; it is to permeate presencing with absencing.
The prospective category hen designated, on one hand, the supreme entity, the divine One, and, on the other, the unity of a phenomenal constellation, the economic One. However, these two notions, while they were mutually exclusive, in no way exhausted the categorial scope ensuing from the conjunction of hen with logos and alētheia. This conjunction revealed the differential One as the henological category proper. The recapitulatory incidence of the transitional category corresponding to hen will have to stress the motility of inclusion-exclusion as it has shaped all differential constellations: the nearness-farness of entities in each era marked by the Western destiny of being. Only to the recapitulatory gaze, then, does presencing appear as the “world-play” of near and far.96 The point of this category is missed altogether if one sees in it no more than a “metaphorization” of the old metaphysics of presence.97 What is thereby missed is the one issue of these transitional categories, the shift from the recapitulation of the actual to an anticipation of the possible.
‘Nearness’ recapitulates the three senses of hen: on the threshold of the metaphysical closure, the divine One is both near and far;98 the economic One, the order that “lies nearby” (das Naheliegende), escapes us all the more since we are inserted in its constellation;99 while the differential One which, as the ownmost issue for thinking, is closest to us, has ceased even to be a question at the moment of the closure and is thus farthest removed.100 But if, in the possible transition to post-modernity, the ontological difference is to be given up for the sake of a difference that plays otherwise—for example, between ‘thing’ and ‘world’—then these networks of nearness also change their strategies: the ‘near-and-far’ of God, of the epochal principles and of being must yield to a modified play of determinations. Whether the new play is called “the fourfold”101 or something else, what counts is that nearness has ceased to play. The new play’s terrain does not entirely coincide with that of metaphysics. With that dislocation the nearness modelled after the Presocratic hen becomes inoperative.102
This necessity of a categorial displacement becomes even clearer with regard to the retrospective category, ‘transmutation of all values’ and ‘death of God’. These Nietzschean titles in Heidegger underscore the extreme anthropocentrism produced by the hen. In ‘world and thing’, ‘favor’, ‘event’, and ‘clearing’, on the other hand, man has hardly been at issue.
In every economy, words, things and actions are ‘near’ each other according to a given constellation. In the metaphysical era, their mutual proximity is regulated by a principle. In the modern era, technology lays them out near man. In the era anticipated by the transitional categories, their nearness or proximity is groundless, without foundation and without why, without either archē or telos. Nearness is disentangled from the pros hen relation. To suggest relations, no longer to one term but among a number of terms within an economic net, a category is needed that stresses the plurification of hen. That category is ‘the fourfold’.
Hence the relational metaphors used to describe the interaction among the earth and the sky, the gods and the mortals: “play,” “mirror-play,” “ring,” “ringing,” “roundel.”103 The four constituents, taken from Hölderlin, matter less than the way in which they transmute the hen. Their “simple onefold” (Einfalt) lies in the unicity of the economic fold (Falte) which they determine. The one and the many—the onefold and the fourfold—are here thought together as the differential law according to which presencing unfolds outside the metaphysical closure. How is such unfolding to be understood? As “nestling, malleable, pliant, compliant, nimble.”104 Not an easy thought. What is clear, however, is that in quadrupling the poles of reference Heidegger seeks to disjoin the economic One from the divine One—from foundations and principles, from the entire arsenal of archic and telic representations—through transmuting the differential One. When difference is grasped as a playful exchange between world and thing, and no longer as transcendence, the age-old collusion between economies and principles has lost the space in which it can prevail.105 With the ‘fourfold’, the economies lose their affinity to epochs and epochal stampings. The transmutation of hen into Geviert does more than de-center man: one would have to speak, not even of an eccentric core, but of eccentric cores. This plurification shows that the entire idiom of core, center, focus, chief, primacy, is incompatible with the thorough transmutation of values. The anticipatory incidence of this transitional category renders impossible the principial arrangements which its recapitulatory incidence not only tolerated, but called for ceaselessly from Heraclitus through the technological age.106 In keeping with the categorial “passing by and simultaneity,”107 the ‘fourfold’ is not exactly substituted for ‘nearness’.108 From attributive—nearness of many terms to one—it turns systemic: nearness of many terms to each other. This can be shown regarding the content of the four words, earth and sky, divinities and mortals. The first pair of these responds indeed to eon and the second to logos:109 earth and sky (or heaven) express the way the post-metaphysical ‘being and entities’—world and thing—enter that play of systemic nearing, while the divinities and the mortals thematize how in that play the ‘gathering’ comes to function as ‘clearing’. Unfortunately for conceptual clarity, this is where Heidegger’s language follows Hölderlin’s most closely.
In the commentary on Hölderlin’s poem “Remembrance,” the poet—hermeneute, half-god—is called the Incomparable. His utterances, those of a messenger between heaven and earth, are neither celestial nor terrestrial. He is “the Incomparable both to the sky and the earth. . . . Here conciliation does not mean equalizing into indifference, but rather letting the differentiated hold sway equally in its difference.”110 What the poet says arises from the in-between. He lets the differentiated prevail as differentiated, without returning to the Greek site—to eon—which is lost, but also without subjecting the differentiated to the metaphysical scheme of explanation, to the ‘ontological’ difference which is becoming inapplicable. The in-between makes “the sway (das Walten) of the difference” thinkable. “What we call that way directs our thinking into the region which the guiding words of metaphysics—being and entities, ground and grounded—are no longer apt to utter.”111 The word pair ‘world and thing’, on the other hand, reaches that region inasmuch as it bespeaks the perpetual newness of the differentiated terms. The pair ‘sky and earth’ addresses the same difference but by specifying how far the distinct foci lie apart—as far apart, precisely, as heaven and earth. If the poet lets “the differentiated hold equal sway,” he achieves what no philosopher can achieve: standing, or bearing, irreducible otherness as irreducible.
As to the ‘divinities’ and the ‘mortals’, they, too, are essentially apart. In Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin, this word pair suggests the interplay that the difference intitiates as ‘clearing’, which is the anticipatory trait inherited from legein. What the divinities do to the mortals is alleviate, lighten, clear their lives. The clearing, it will be recalled, designates not only the emergence into presence, but also the function of assigning entities their place, of situating. To presencing that category joins absencing, and to things present or absent it assigns their respective sites. For Heidegger, to speak of divinities is to denote lightness, the movement of emergence, and to speak of the mortals is to point to extreme finitude, to the variations in situatedness. These somewhat forced connections are suggested by Hölderlin inasmuch as for him the “messengers” “brighten up” and “greet” the mortals, thereby opening their access to presence. The divinities are thus rather angels: “The essence of those who, elsewhere, are called ‘the divinities’ is addressed in a purer fashion through the name ‘the angels’. Indeed, the divinities are those who brighten up. . . . What belongs properly to the divinities is that they bring greetings in which serenity greets.”112 “To brighten up” or “lighten up,” aufheitern, is yet another way of designating the sudden irruption in which a constellation of presencing and absencing situates everything anew. The fourth constituent, ‘the mortals’, furthermore indicates the impossibility of total disclosure. Death is the pull toward absencing in every situation. In that sense it is situation.113 The very concept of ‘mortals’ indicates that entities disclosed to us, situated in our vicinity, are, as it were, selected; that total presence is out of reach; that finitude ruptures the immediacy or the face-to-face with what is originary. The ‘mortals’ are so named because for them it has never been full presence that is originary. As ‘gathering’ entities into presence, they are the locus of absence. They ‘belong and do not belong’ to what is present. To be mortal is to hear, legein,114 the present in a certain way, namely, so as to heed absence in it also. For us, to so become what we are—the arena of presencing-absencing, or of appropriation-expropriation—a new self-understanding is required: the ‘rational animal’ has yet to become mortal.115 This is but another way of stating that referential thinking has yet to become systemic, which for our age means that technological representation, clasped to available stock, has yet to remember absencing.
The category of fourfold thus indicates how the two guiding categories of ‘onto-logy’, eon (presencing-absencing) and logos (gathering), become transmuted at the end of metaphysics: as humans find themselves played by the gathering or self-lightening of the difference between world and thing, they appear as carriers of absence more than as builders and masters of the present. The closure which technology may bring about will be crossed only when we thus have learned to be mortals.
With the principial sense of ‘nearness’ and the anti-principial sense of the ‘fourfold’, the last of the transitional categories becomes discernible.
Epochal principles have always demanded immediate compliance since their Anspruch, their claim or address, is so near that no room is left for mediations of any kind. Our Entsprechen, responding or corresponding, to any figure of an epochal First, due to the fateful nearness of their dictates, has been and is so urgent that whatever humans can do or not do, say or not say at a given epoch, “rests in the destiny of being” (which is therefore what “is nearest to us”). In that sense, we have little choice, little distance from those dictates. Without intentional, cultural, sensible or rational intermediates, the epochal requisitions fill our ears and eyes: “Receiving and accepting now have the sense of a correspondence that hears and sees.”116 That these dictates should appear as essentially linguistic is no surprise if one recalls that, phenomenally, listening does not require the distance demanded by sight. We do no see what lies too close. But, as observed earlier, the nearer a sound is, the better we hear it. Destinal history claims us without exemption, like an authoritative call. That is what is ‘metaphysical’ about it: the fantasy of an arch-present ordering agent. The last of the transitional categories thus recapitulates the history of reversals from the viewpoint of those inescapable injunctions which, as the linguistic modality of the epochē and hence without mediation, make an age.
This recapitulatory incidence agrees with the last prospective category, nous, as well as with the last retrospective category, ‘overman’. Noein signifies ‘to receive’, vernehmen: not to perceive by noetic acts, but “to accept something as present.”117 The category of ‘correspondence’, now, concerns man’s reception and acceptance of the epochal orders in which he lives. Their principles do not tolerate questioning, nor can their claims be objectified, examined, and evaluated as legitimate or not, their competence accepted as binding or rejected as spurious. One does not probe their validity. One does not even speak about them. It is they who speak. But that epochal truth of noein, the immediate reception of principial injunctions, becomes thinkable only when examined from the site, technology, where the history of principles appears as the self-incurred illusion of perfeet presence and where it therefore comes to an end. Here one can say: in their words, their actions, their things, humans have not ceased to respond and correspond to the requirements of what happens to function as an ultimate ground in their epochal economy.
Technology also allows one to situate the ‘overman’ within the recapitulatory strategy of Entsprechen, corresponding. The subjectivization of the world through the figure of overman can succeed only by an inversion of noein which is as old as metaphysics: it is not man who responds and corresponds to the rule of epochal referents, but these referents are what we have declared to rule epochally, they are representations. Hence the identification between metaphysics and humanism. The one epochal referent, then, that has governed the West is man understood as nous and ratio. All else has been placed in a position of accountability to him. Still latent in antiquity, but manifest in modernity, ‘correspondence’ therefore means: all entities are answerable to subjective reason. The cogito, the Kantian ‘tribunal of reason’, and ‘overman’ render explicit the dictates that man voices over the totality of entities, namely, that they conform to the pure laws emanating from the subject. Following the recapitulatory reading, only what is rational, vernünftig, because received, vernommen, by the subject is real.
Man can appear in the posture of a legislator over entities only epochally: such is the paradox this phenomenology of economies reveals. He is epochally summoned to summon entities so that they conform to his reason. By so doing, he guards one aletheiological constellation. Man responds to the destinai injunctions by ordaining entities to be answerable to him. The subjective command over objects has been the predominant form in the West of responding to the principial command over the economies. However, the subjective and the epochal summons do not operate on the same level. For metaphysical, and a fortiori, technological man to set himself up as ‘master over the earth’ is still no more than his response to the claim that governs Western destiny in its quasi-totality.118 With the “end of being’s destiny” an altogether different form of human response to economies appears. Principial or archic economies enjoin us to master all that there is and can be, while an-archic—post-metaphysical, post-destinal—economies enjoin us ‘think’ in the sense of ‘thanking’, of submitting to economic mutations.119
In Heidegger’s writings subsequent to the existential analytic, ‘thinking’ takes over the role of Dasein120 as the locus of possible inauthenticity or authenticity, expropriation or appropriation. Epithets such as “authentic,” “originary,” “essential”121 not only aim at opposing thought to the sciences, to metaphysics, to philosophy in its entirety, including rationalism as well as irrationalism, but they also indicate a shift in the locus of response or respondence: “Essential thought is an event of being,” which “claims man for the safeguard of being.”122 The respondence structure (not to be confused with anything about conformity theories of truth) as such has not changed: thinking is “the echo of being’s favor”; it is “man’s answer to the word of the soundless voice of being”; “this thinking responds to the claims (Anspruch) of being.”123 But the respondence structure has been taken a step back from the conditioned to the conditioning: thinking’s response is no longer understood as the preservation of an epochal order, but as the ‘guardianship’ of presencing, with the absencing that permeates it. This transmutation of response only parallels the step back from the epochs of presence to the event of presencing. On the threshold of the closure, that step entails the possibility of putting our allegiance where our Wesen, our essential unfolding, occurs: in the fluctuations of presencing-absencing. ‘Thinking’ is Heidegger’s word for that possibility of a novel allegiance: “The thinking which obeys the voice of being” “heeds the slow signs of the incalculable and recognizes in this the unforseeable coming of the ineluctable.”124 What is both incalculable and ineluctable? The inconspicuous passage from the technological economy into one determined solely by the play of presencing-absencing. For our age, then, to think means to respond and correspond to the precursory signs of an economy determined only by the favor, the event, and the clearing. But if ‘thinking’ is the name of a mere possibility, does this not imply that actual thinking is something yet to come, still out of reach for us?
Indeed, and since “we are still not thinking,”125 the phrase ‘thought to come’ has something pleonastic about it just as the phrase ‘epoch of withdrawal’ does (the two are mutually exclusive as are compliance with anarchic presencing and compliance with principles). At the end of all these categorial determinations, and, in particular, with this last of the anticipatory titles, the question arises, “What task still remains reserved for thinking at the end of philosophy?”126 That question would be more easily answered if the issue for thinking were something noumenal, for it would then suffice to establish laws of history through which thought might once again master becoming and predict future stages of a Subject. The answer would be simpler, too, if that issue were merely empirical: its task would then consist in waiting for events to occur and in recording them. But since the issue for thinking is of a categorial nature—investigating the history of reversals so as to discover the traits of being—the answer can hardly be more than a series of negations: thinking, as it results from the play of the transitional categories, will be “neither metaphysical, nor scientific”; anticipatory thinking is “less than philosophy”; “its task is only of a preparatory, not of a founding character.” “It is content with awakening in man a readiness for a possibility whose contour remains obscure and whose advent, uncertain.”127 What is the task of thinking? Raised at the end of an era, that question can only be answered by pointing to the possible exit from all monisms and dualisms, that is, by pointing to thinking as the agent of transition toward a polymorphous economy.
The categories of nous and ‘overman’ were the ones that contained the most explicit reference to man. Since ‘thinking’, as a category, situates man (either within, or on the threshold of, or outside the metaphysical closure), it allows one to speak of thought types. The site determines the type. On the threshold of the closure, thinking is of an anticipatory type. Given our locus in advanced technology, the anticipated thinking, on the other hand—outside the closure—arises as a “possibility whose contour remains obscure.” Deconstruction is anticipatory in its entire thrust. Radical phenomenology ‘prepares’ for another, a possible, economy. Most of the determinations Heidegger ascribes to the thinking he anticipates apply in fact only to his own anticipatory thinking: it would be “meditative” instead of “calculative”;128 through it, we would “let the technical objects enter our daily world and at the same time leave them outside”;129 we would pass “by the sciences without despising them.”130 These are unmistakably features of the potential within technology. What, then, would “the other thinking” be, the one which is hardly adumbrated by the phenomenology of technology as the era of closure? This is much more difficult to describe. It would have left behind the Janus-like ambiguities of calculating-meditating, science-thought, etc., and would have turned Proteus-like. The difficulty of describing it led Heidegger for some years into the vicinity of Hölderlin’s poetry. To think, he would then say, is to “dwell poetically.”131 To be sure, Heidegger claims anticipatory thought as his own, but just as surely he does not claim for himself the thinking he seeks to prepare or anticipate. For that, deconstructive phenomenology is still too closely bound to academic traditions, not yet simple, schlicht, enough.132
In addition to the dependency of man—of thinking—on our economic site, that is, on the double-faced line of closure, this category shares the poverty of all last categories in the table: like nous and ‘overman’, the category of ‘corresponding/thinking’ needs the preceding ones to be fully operative. Anticipatory thinking remains flush with ‘things’ emerging in the ‘world’; its proper issue is no longer the ‘ontological difference’, but multiple presencing as multiple. It responds to the ‘favor’ that bestows upon us ever varying economic constellations. It gathers ‘the event’ and lets those constellations be as they arrange and rearrange themselves, always transitory. It keeps itself exposed to the ever new ‘clearing’. Lastly, it discovers itself to be mortal, drawn into the ‘fourfold’ flux and cast in a role it has neither created nor produced, and where it does not play the lead. The anticipated thinking can only go very far in the dispersion which already characterizes anticipatory thinking: the unceasing newness mandated jointly by all the other categories renders it host to an irreducible plurality of meanings.133 If the state of affairs this thinking anticipates is an economy deprived of principles, then the noetic drive to oneness will have to remain content with merely categorial unities within economic multiplicity. As ‘thanking’, thinking will comply with systemic diffractions despite and against all archai and principia: “Only a multivocal thinking attains an utterance that responds to the issue of such a state of affairs,” a state of affairs which is itself “intrinsically manifold.”134