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Heidegger's an-arché

Draft of a section of a paper on the anarcheology of forests:

The endeavor Heidegger called history of beyng (Geschichte des Seyns) is at the same time cosmic – and, to a large extent, cosmopolitical1 and archeological – and, if it is so, it is an-archeological.2 Throughout his contact with the archives of Nietzsche in the mid-1930s, he became persuaded that the metaphysical forgetfulness of being and the corresponding ontological difference between being and beings3 were a consequence of an arché – a beginning, an Anfang – which is itself to be exorcized.4 That initial move placed physis – the nature of processes but also the way things unfold by themselves, of their own forces and their own accord – at the center of the effort to think the world through. That starting point paved the way to the bias of thought towards control expressed in the endeavor of extracting the intelligibility of what it finds around. It is perhaps not clear, or not relevant, whether this course of developments was doomed from the outset or was rather tainted by the metaphysics it generated and maintained. Perhaps another route could have been taken at some juncture in the road. In any case, the beginning ushered in by physis – and by an associate notion of truth as aletheia, unveiling5 – grounded an era that hosts the metaphysical efforts to ensure things are separated from their intelligibility.6 The inception carried that development even if it could be avoided or postponed. Heidegger was persuaded that this first beginning was desertified7 into a project that makes thinking into an effort to secure an ever-extending surrounding that is both calculable and commandable.8 This beginning was the inception of a relation between thought and all the rest – or rather, between thought and what it is about. The enterprise of making everything understandable and controllable was born in the inception ushered in by physis and that project had all sorts of consequences, for things that were turned into objects (of thought and of standing reserve), for the world which is turn into a controlled ensemble of positions or a functioning device (Ge-Stell) and for physis itself which is ultimately turned into an instance of a disconnected and multiply realizable intelligibility.9

The coming of this first inception – its arrival and the subsequent consequences issued from it – is itself an event, an Ereignis10 and therefore comes from a more primordial source. This is a source that is behind the grounding that physis offered. Physis, as a first beginning, is followed by the history of metaphysics and is itself issued from this second and yet more primordial source that nonetheless is not a ground of grounds – or an arché of the archai – but rather an absence of ground that Heidegger calls Ab-grund (abyss, or un-ground, de-ground).11 That the era commanded by and commenced with12 physis was itself an event grounded nowhere but in a sheer arrival exemplifies the more original character of the second beginning which comes from beyng – the more ancient being that is not unveiling but rather the very clearing (Lichtung) that enables any appearing.13 Clearing is not a revelation of the underlying intelligibility, it is not what makes something seizable or understandable for it is not a presentation from which an intelligibility can be detached, as is aletheia, but rather a mere taking-place. Heidegger understands that the truth behind truth as unveiling is a mere showing, a presentation as what happens when light arrives in the forest in a clearing. In contrast, he considers that aletheia was transformed into revelation (for someone) as physis was degenerated into commands and calculation; truth was turned into adequacy, adequaetio intellectus et rei.14 Aletheia was turned into a certainty as physis was turned into thesis.15 Clearing, in contrast, holds that truth lies in the unfolding of things and not in what is unveiled of them for someone, for a truth-bearer. Truth-as-clearing escapes physis because it precedes it while grounding nothing; truth-as-clearing is indeed nothing but the opening that makes anything appear or arrive. Beyng is the abyss of the event that unveils no hidden intelligibility. It lies in the very question that could be phrased in terms of a quest for intelligibility but offers no foundational answer.

The history of beyng heads towards what is most primordial as it reveals events that are of a cosmic nature such as the pursuit of metaphysics. It is a history which brings about more original beginnings – it is not a history of what follows (from) an arché, it is not a history of sequences or consequences. Rather, it is a history of starting points that could be more primordial while coming later. Because we are often attentive only to what follows from what, we cannot see such a history taking place in a time of arrivals. It is disturbing for our sense of intelligibility because first things not always come first; further, it is not a history of thought separated from its effects and not a history of what there is irrespective to thinking. The history of beyng is partly about the effects of thinking – and calculation, machination, treasuring Ge-Stell16 – over the world and the effect of what the world then triggers on thinking. The advent of metaphysics brings to the fore a history that cannot itself be thought through by metaphysics itself17 – from a metaphysical point of view, nothing takes place either with being or with anything more primordial than it. From that perspective, beyng could have no history for it is what can barely be conceived among beings. Metaphysics, remarks Heidegger, is incapable both of farewells and of beginnings18, and beyng is essentially beginning19 – and hence a farewell.20 But the history unveiled by the occurrence of metaphysics brings about the daring character of an arché, which is ultimately stepping backwards towards a non-grounded pure beginning.21 The cosmic character of the history of beyng lies in the distance it keeps with the chronology of what follows what (Heidegger’s Historie); it is a history of beginnings that engages thought as it revolves around the moment of grounding. Thinking that is not following the consequences, is proceeding backwards towards what can precede but has no power to command an arché. A thought that can entertain what could be the second beginning – Ereignis – is a thought which unearthens the soil where thought could rest in the age of metaphysics. The possibility of this unearthing thought is the possibility of a history that does more than capturing the intelligibility of time – a history that faces up to the non-grounded in time. Thinking beyond the coupling of being and thought (and of time and history) that makes grounding possible is anarchaeological.

Revolving the ground is dwelling in what is not in itself capable to ground; Heidegger finds the second beginning in the incapacity to have power, in the very indifference to power.22 Further, that ungrouding an-arché can be appropriated by what can ground power and by what can dominate the very effects that veil beyng; this is because physis is itself an arrival. The ground still rests on what is underneath, even though it cannot ground anything. This is the sense of the indifference of beyng to power: beyng can be appropriated by physis while letting it happen and the abyss under the ground can be kept unnoticed. The (an-)archaeology of beyng under the ground depends on the excavating effort facing the thinker – which is, at the face of it, for Heidegger, the human. Beyng is therefore dependent on the human; such state is tolerated by beyng which is not craving to be unveiled and concedes to the human the freedom to think it through, a freedom grounded in reference to being.23 What uncovers the abyss inside the ground is the detection, mainly carried out by Nietzsche according to Heidegger, of nihilism as an event in the underground history – an Ereignis. The discovery of thesis arising within physis is the thought that enables the unveiling of a different beginning.

It is this urge for a second beginning that appeals to the non-grounded that disconnects thought and being and that makes history alien to the chain of historical consequences. Being, what is connected to physis in the first beginning, harbors beyng inside it as any attempt to ground anything carries the gap of a primordial event. When that gap between the destiny of physis, now unfolded – call it thesis, or Ge-Stell, or Wille zu Macht – and beyng that dispenses that destination is thought, a new beginning is made possible. That an-archaeology cannot be a product of a decision – that will place the gesture within metaphysics which is the forced exposure of what was previously presenting itself of its own accord.24 But neither can it come as an imposition of beyng over humans for it is the former who depends on the latter. Heidegger insists that thinking is a state of readiness, neither forcing a beginning nor accepting it as independent of listening to the word – independent of thinking.25 This readiness to what is unveiled that involves no act of excavating – this an-archeological state – is prompted by questioning; asking is what spells the future of beyng.26 The question is in the neighborhood of Ereignis, unbearably near and yet seemingly far – die abgrundige Ferne des Nahen.27 The question concerning fire – the physis of inflammability – triggers the Promethean control but within it there is a question; a question about the events that give rise to phaos – which says the same as physis in its multiplicity.28 The dawn of the destiny of beyng (Seynsgeschickes) concealed Ge-Stell and machination in its inception29 – that destination was in the question that carries in itself a kinship with the force that brings Ereignis about. The ungrounded ungrounding is like the question – indifferent to power and yet dependent on the thinker which is compelled to entertain it.

The twist of the movement can be described as a step from beginning with an arché, a ground, an intelligibility that can be detached from what it makes intelligible towards seeking a corresponding an-arché which is the very question that made the ground possible and the extracted intelligibility intelligible. A move from a ground to an abyss, from a commandment to an emission, from a departure to an outset. Ereignis is hidden in physis, beyng is packed inside being – archaeology is wrapped around an-archaeology. Thinking beyond the first beginning is thinking about what came before the beginning; it is the inception of the inception, the first gesture of a grounding. Beyng, therefore, lies in lack of ground underneath the arché – it has no answer and cannot be measured.30 Heidegger takes beyng to be akin to the questionability of all decisions31 – this indicates why Ereignis is also Austrag, the resolution.32 The move from the first beginning to its consequences and then backwards towards the second beginning correspond to a movement through three fundamental tonalities (Grundstimmungen): from wonder to weirdness to the abyss.33 Wonder triggers a quest for reasons and that quest makes whatever is recalcitrant weird, strange, unfamiliar; instead, what precedes wonder is the astonishment that is not a question concerning what is before the thinker, but an immersion in the very questioning of any resolution taken. The abyss lies within the pre-foundational stage, among the an-archai, it lies in the pre-history of any resolution; an-archic is the question concerning the resolution which is going to be unfolded. The abyss belongs in the resolution and in Ereignis. It also belongs in the an-arché (Ab-Grund), in the absence of foundation that every ground is wrapped around.

The Ereignis of nihilism is taken by Heidegger to be something both cosmological and an-archeological. There cannot be a physis of nihilism – or of Ge-Stell – because that will do no more than carrying on the very project of nihilism and the event, with the resolution that brings it about, would not be considered. To face the event of nihilism, one needs to see it as ungrounded, as an-archeological. But by the same token, that harbors a cosmological import: all things are not subject to the long assassination of God because there is a major event presiding the history of metaphysics which is the assassination itself. Nihilism is not all that there could be about the cosmos – neither is metaphysics the only project of intelligence to cope with it. Seeing the event of metaphysics as a cosmic Ereignis – one for which there cannot be an arché within the realm of physis – opens the view to something else that could underlie the (cosmopolitical) relation between thought and being. Heidegger claims that the history of metaphysics unveils beyng precisely because it unveils a history that includes an an-archic preamble that overshadows anything else. If the history of metaphysics is considered under the light of the event it unfolds, it can open a path towards a history of beyng where the absence of ground is the protagonist. It is in the origin of metaphysical thinking that lies the resolution that determines the course of its development and within any determination there is an underlying abyss.

1Cosmopolitical in the sense of what is about a general configuration or state of affairs involving humans and non-humans, see Stengers, Cosmopolitics. See also Bensusan, “Geist and Ge-Stell”.

2See Bensusan, Being Up For Grabs: On Speculative Anarcheology.

3See Heidegger, History of Beyng, XI, 113.

4See Heidegger, History of Beyng, III, 23, 31.

5See Heidegger, History of Beyng, XII, 147.

6See Heidegger, History of Beyng, XI, 115.

7See Heidegger, Mindfulness, II, 9.

8See Heidegger, History of Beyng, VI, 57.

9See Heidegger, Insight into that which is, lecture 2.

10See Heidegger, Mindfulness, III, 14.

11See, for instance, Heidegger, History of Beyng, V, 37; VI, 52; VII, 82.

12Arché is often understood as simultaneously what commands and what commences, see, for instance, Agamben, What is a commandment.

13See Heidegger, Mindfulness, V, 37.

14See Heidegger, Mindfulness, V, 37.

15See Heidegger, Insight into that which is, lecture 2.

16See Heidegger, Insight into that which is, lecture 2.

17See Heidegger, The word of Nietzsche.

18See Heidegger, On Inception, I, 7.

19See Heidegger, On Inception, I, 7; I, 25.

20Derrida, in “The time of farewells”, claims that farewells, that can always be a “see you soon”, elude the language of metaphysics

21See Heidegger, On Inception, I, 6.

22See Heidegger, Mindfulness, XIII, 65.

23See Heidegger, Mindfulness, VII, 55

24See Heidegger, Mindfulness, II, 12.

25See Heidegger, Mindfulness, II, 12, last paragraphs.

26See Heidegger, History of Beyng, IX, 104.

27See Heidegger, Draft for Koinon”, History of Beyng, last paragraph.

28See Heidegger, Mindfulness, VII, 51.

29See Heidegger, Insight into that which is, p. 62.

30Heidegger, Mindfulness, XXVI, 88.

31Heidegger, Mindfulness, XXVI, 88.

32Heidegger, Mindfulness, XXVI, 81.

33Heidegger, Mindfulness, XXVI, 74.


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