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The Great Outdoors: Horizon

Wrote a paper on a positive definition of the Great Outdoors, talking about how the idea of supplement in Derrida, the idea of excess in Bataille and some remarks on the horizon of appearing in Severino could help to conceive the Great Outdoors. Here's the third part, on horizon:

The Great Outdoors is what is beyond – maybe beyond the horizon. The image of a horizon contrasts with that of a totality that encloses itself. The horizon is an opening, an exposure, a border with something outer. The very idea of horizon indicates something like the Great Outdoors in the sense that what is beyond it cannot lie in the indoors. Any form of non-indexicalism would see this as no more than a poor analogy with reality for the external (and the internal) cannot belong in a total drone-like account of it. For indexicalism, nonetheless, the horizon is part of the furniture of the universe, a furniture which is situated and which ensures always an outdoors. The horizon is both from where things are issued and from where they disappear. It is often understood as a place of becoming from where things begin to be – and therefore the very border between being and nothingness.

Emanuele Severino (2016) revisits the relation between being and appearances since the abandonment of Parmenides – doing that, he provides a fruitful way of conceiving the horizon. He endeavors to think within a pre-metaphysical tradition that was lost both by Plato's parricide and by what he calls Melissus' betrayal of being. Both these moves enabled non-being to be considered as part of reality – and made room for the idea that not every existent is permanent and necessary because it (eventually) exists. The two moves paved the way for metaphysics as a struggle with nothingness that requires positing some permanent and necessary beings to make sure that ex nihilo nihil. Being is than understood as more than appearing, but both can lapse into nothingness, at least in principle. In contrast, Severino intends to rather return to a framework where being is never nothing and appearing is part of being and the disappearance of anything, being it a pen, a leave, a glimpse of the grass, the blueness of an ice cube or a lapsing moment of ecstasy, is not an annihilation but rather simply a concealment from appearance. Everything is equally permanent because being secures what exists against disappearance – it is, according to the lesson of Parmenides, necessary and permanent.

Severino understands being as a whole formed by all differences, by all determinations – in contrast with Parmenides – and whatever exists is eternal and cannot even be conceived otherwise – contrary to Plato, Melissus and their followers. He writes:

Being, then, is not a totality devoid of the determinations of the manifold (as Parmenides held it to be), but rather the totality of differences, the area outside of which there is nothing, or nothing of which it can be said that it is not a Nothing. Being is the whole of the positive. [...] all manifest determinations—this sheet of paper, this pen, this room, these trees and mountains I see outside my window, things perceived in the past, fantasies, expectations, wishes, and all the objects that are present—appear as inscribed within the perimeter of the whole. (2016, 44)

Appearing lies within being, but doesn't exhaust it. Severino takes appearances to be parts of being – disappearance is not annihilation. There could be no hierarchies concerning immutability within being; contrary to what Plato would advocate already moving in the direction of a non-Parmenidean metaphysics, “Being is immutable not insofar as it is universal but insofar as it is Being”, writes Severino, “which means that every aspect of Being is immutable, the inimitable individual no less than the universal"(2016, 48).

Severino then calls the contrast between being and appearing “the total horizon of Appearing” (2016, 126), from where eternal beings appear (and disappear). It is itself a structural, transcendental feature of being, for it connects necessarily what exists with its appearance. What is beyond appearance never reveals itself completely, but it is present in the insufficiency of appearances; that we can understand as a consequence of their non-containment. Severino argues from this insufficiency of appearance to the transcendence of being is based on: it is only on the whole that each appearance would make sense. Being is conceived as a whole that necessarily envelops each parts – each appearances which belong to the whole by “no accidental property” (2016, 128). The insufficiency of appearances are therefore neutralized by a putative sphere of Being (the totality of all determinations, of everything that is) which will eventually reveal itself in an unending – yet enclosed – display of new appearances in the horizon. Being is what complements appearing; it is what provides a totality which is beyond the horizon.

However, if such a totalizing Being is removed from the picture, we move from the urge for complementation to the vulnerability of supplement. That is, if we leave aside the ontologism – a term coined by Levinas (2003) to the thesis that being is all that there is in reality – of Severino's Neo-Parmenidean thinking, the horizon of appearing becomes something other than a lure for totality. To be sure, ontologism is on the very basis of Severino's thinking; after all, it is the kernel of the lessons of Parmenides. However, if we take appearances no longer as parts of being but rather as items surrounded and situated by the Great Outdoors – through the horizon line – we can keep Severino's idea that the horizon is not a border with nothingness, but rather a border with what is not (in some sense) apparent – with what is not transparent.

In fact, Severino contrasts his position with doctrines that conflate appearing and being and claim that there is nothing apart from appearances (or, rather, that everything is transparent). He criticizes this doctrines by holding that they endorse the idea that nothingness genuinely haunts being – and that appearances are ex nihilo. These doctrines are therefore metaphysical – in the sense of what he wants to exorcise. They reject what is not experienced and tend to equate what is beyond with nothingness – or something akin to vacuous actualities. Once Severino's Parmenidean turn is taken into account, the rejection of being can be such that appearances don't lapse into nothingness but simply into disappearance and what looms ahead is not what yet doesn't exist, but what is beyond the realm of appearances – a horizon. In other words, there is no complementing being, no reservoir of all determination forming a realm of objects, qualities, relations and states of affairs indifferent to the horizon; once the existence beyond the horizon is exorcized, there is no standing reserve of what is available to appear in the horizon. Severino's conception of a horizon can be placed together with the idea that the Great Outdoors provides continuous supplementation to what appears; we can endorse Severino's image of a horizon which is transcendent while rejecting the image of being as a whole of the positive which brings together a (complete) totality of determinations. Further, we can also learn from what Severino has to say about the appearances – parts of being – that are revealed, he writes that the “part that appears alone differs from itself as enveloped by the whole, in that it comes to lose (=to conceal) something of itself as so enveloped.” He points at the difference that what is beyond the horizon makes on appearances as he continues:

that which withdraws from Appearing is not simply the dimension that exceeds the part, but owing to this withdrawal there is also a withdrawal in the part that appears, which thus appears withered (2016, 130).

There is something missing in the appearing because of the horizon – it is due to it that appearances enjoy a non-containment. What is beyond makes an impact on appearances – make them insufficient. In contrast, if there is nothing beyond the horizon, a (metaphysical and post-Parmenidean) separation between being and nothingness makes what appears fully indifferent to anything else. The doctrines that favor the immanence of appearances which Severino criticize are the ones that could make no room for any impact of what is beyond the horizon in what appears. The horizon can only provide excess and supplement if it is not a border between what actual entities and nothingness – or vacuous actualities.


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