Geschehen and (Hi-)Story-telling. Notes on Derrida “The question of History and Being.” (draft)

To speak of a question of being is, by the simple elocution of the word being, to determine it, to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor.  (224)


Mimicking Derrida’s gesture, I can start by trying “in a quite preliminary way to justify in its literality the title” of these notes “Geschehen and (Hi-)Story-telling“– a title that I do not especially like but somehow imposed itself and resisted to all my attempts of revise it.

Following the pattern of the -terribly misleading-moralistic- dualistic interpretation of the Analytic of Dasein based on the opposition authentic/inauthentic, one might be tempted to read the conjunction in the title as an essential disjuncture between the two terms, which would be also the trench where philosophy should set its defense lines.  Heidegger himself would seem to encourage such an interpretation when at the beginning of Sein und Zeit he reproduces the classic gesture of dismissing story-telling quoting Plato’s Sophist:

The first philosophical step in understanding the problem of being consists in avoiding the muthon tina diegeisthai (keine Geschichte erzählen) in not “telling a story”, that is, not determining beings as beings by tracing them back in their origins to another being — as if being had the character of a possible being. (SuZ 5)

But story telling is nothing strange to philosophy. “’Telling stories,’ in philosophy, is for Heidegger – as Derrida clarifies – something much more profound and that cannot be so easily denounced as doxography. The Novelesque form which we must awaken is philosophy itself as metaphysics and as onto-theology.” (26) Story telling is any discourse about beings and the origin of beingness in terms of becoming. Any ontic history is already story-telling.  Metaphisics is story-telling and story-telling is always already onto-theology and humanism.

And this is because what is behind story-telling is the privilege accorded by philosophy to the present. The privilege of present is itself initially and for the most part what orients the Dasein in its everydayness. It is what marks the ordinary ontic understanding of time. It grew out of the inauthentic understanding of time rooted in Dasein inauthentic temporality, which stems directly from its authentic temporality. (§ 65) One could say that the absolute privileging of the present as the transcendental framework to understand the totality of being is the common ground for philosophy and Dasein’s ‘common sense’. Here, it is where subjectivity, community, as well as ontic history are grounded as such, and in their respective reciprocal implications. In this sense, in the transcendental structure of the Present is where all the main onto-theological closures take place.

First and foremost, it is the place of subjectivist closure. Through the privileging of the Present, life gains its continuity: life is understood in its Zusammenheit, as course, continuity, and concatenation of lived experience. And this way, the pure identity of the ego, the unity of the self, and the stability of the transcendental subject are guaranteed. This is the historical subject understood as being in history and subject to events. [Paraphrasing Heidegger’s chapter 72 of Sein und Zeit] This subject exists as the sum of the momentary realities of experiences that succeed each other and disappear in a succession gradually fill up a framework, an objectively present path. And – it is worth noticing – the framework is a narrative framework, and the objective presence of the present in the form of a path is made possible only narratively.

Second is the communitarian closure. Privileging the present is the very condition of community whose metaphysical structure mirrors the model of the subject. The presupposition of living in the same present is the transcendental condition of any community. But the present that the community shares is first and foremost the reality of Today where the past, meaning the “no longer objectively present,” manifests its effects as tradition. The community represents itself now as what has arisen from a collection of events that can be gathered into a teleological narrative that remitted the community to its destiny. In this sense, the same narrative condition, the same narrative framework is constitutive of the unity of the community in its continuity, meaning its Zusammenheit. The unity and the continuity of the destiny of a community is narratively produced.

The metaphysical closure of History is in general the closure of the within-time-ness of that which guaranties the continuity of the subject and the community. In this sense, the closure of History, is itself part of the mirroring of the continuity of the life of the subject in the continuity of the life of the community, and it presupposes the possibility of such a mirroring. On the one hand, the gathering of events into the unity of a narrative as common memory of the community is instrumental to the constitution of the community itself. The destination of the narrative is the community that transmits it and requires its transmission for the sake of its own reproduction. On the other hand, the unity of history as object of human consideration always assume the continuity-unity of subjectivity in any of its ethical-political collective forms.

One can say then, not only, that story-telling is itself grounded in the privilege of the present, and that it assumes such a threefold metaphysical closure as its transcendental condition, but also, that it is somehow always already serving it and (maybe) performatively confirming it. (Hi)story-telling is initially and for the most part telling about these closures. It shows the ultimate complicity of onto-theology and humanism at the very core of metaphysics.

So, what really is at stake in “stop telling stories,” is destroying “the privilege of the present” as the self-evidence of the ground for metaphysical closure, meaning for thinking Being as totality of beings. As Derrida puts it during “session six”:

It must be clearly understood that this absolute privileging of the Present and the Presence of the Present that Heidegger must destroy or shake up in order to recover the possibility of historicity cannot be destroyed by him the way one criticizes a contingent prejudice. It must be clearly understood that what he is going to solicit (I prefer this word to “destroy”: comment) in this privilege of the Present is the self-evidence, the assurance, the most total and most irreducible ground of the totality of metaphysics itself; it is philosophy itself. (138)

What is at stake in Heidegger’s classical gesture of dismissing story-telling and philosophical mythology, is the very possibility of posing the question of Being as such, which becomes possible only through an understanding of the temporality of Da-sein. It is a matter of understanding Da-sein’s authentic temporality, that is “Geschehen,” meaning “historicity as the constitution of the being of Da-sein, to show [I quote from SuZ] “that his being is not ‘temporal,’ because ‘it is in history,’ but because, on the contrary, it exists and can exist historically only because it is temporal in the ground of its being.” (345)  Heidegger’s resolution of stop telling-stories then has to do with the possibility of understanding Da-sein’s authentic temporality, which is at the same time the only possibility of understanding the privilege of the present as the irreducible ground of metaphysics and so, the only actual possibility of stop telling stories. However, understanding Da-sein’s authentic temporality means understanding that the inauthentic understanding of its being it is not an extrinsic threat to Dasein, but “a possibility and even an essential necessity inscribed in the very heart of its being.” (116) The Da of Dasein is the key to its historicity. There Dasein dwells in ecstatic ex-position to the historicity of being, and exists historically in its proximity to Being. Such a proximity is the proximity of language. The historicity of language is the historicity of being and is the historicity of Dasein. (see Derrida “language is the shelter of Being…and this shelter is historical” 59) In such a proximity, Dasein exists historically both authentically and inauthentically, or, better, first and for the most part inauthentically. Inauthenticity is a primordial possibility of Dasein’s Geschehen. Language itself is first and for the most part the language of metaphysics, its formal (predicative?) structures are reproducing the subjectivist closure, inherently privileging the present, and building ontic metaphors. Language is virtually always already story telling.  So, there is no originary truth of Being first, that language would be improperly covering up metaphorically through the rhetorical exercise of telling stories. Story-telling is the metaphoricity of language as such.

Now the thinking of the truth of being is to come but to come as what was always already buried. It follows that metaphor is the forgetting of the proper and originary meaning. Metaphor does not occur in language as a rhetorical procedure; it is the beginning of language, of which the thinking of being is however the buried origin. One does not begin with the originary; that’s the first word of the (hi)story.
This means in particular that there is no chance, that there will never be any chance for those who might think of metaphor as a disguise of thought or of the truth of being. There will never be any chance of undressing or stripping down this naked thinking of being which was never naked and never will be. The proper meaning whose movement metaphor tries to follow without ever reaching or seeing it, this proper meaning has never been said or thought and will never be said or thought as such. (62-63)

At this point, it becomes clear that there is no opposition, but rather an essential as well as conflictual relationship hiding in the title “Geschehen and Story-telling“. Is there any way out of story-telling? Can philosophy think without narration?

I would say that following Heidegger-with-Derrida, the actual only possible counterpoint of “story-telling” is not geschehen, but rather questioning, interrogating, inquiring. Not only because the interrogative form seems less affected by the metaphoricity of language than the predicative one; but because the ontic-ontological priority of Dasein – as “this being which we ourselves are”- comes from the very fact that this being “includes inquire among the possibilities of its being” (SuZ 6) This means that it is through this possibility of inquiring, even beyond the limits of its own language, that Dasein dwells in the proximity of being. In this sense, it is clear why it is not then an accident if the word question is the only word in the title of the course that Derrida did not tried to justify. As the conclusive remarks states:

The title of this course was, I recall: “Heidegger: The Question of Being and History.” You remember that I tried at the outset to justify each of the words of this title. Each of them, even the name Heidegger, has turned out to be metaphorical. There is one word, perhaps you remember, that I did not try to justify, and that was question. (225)

So, there is no way out of metaphoricity and story-telling. Thinking can only in the best scenario be an interrupted sequence of metaphors, a sequence of metaphors interrupted by the inquiring of metaphoricity of language as such. By interrupting the metaphoric movement of language, by interrupting the (hi)story-telling, thinking can try to interrupt the metaphysical closure.

If, then, using another metaphor, one calls vigilance this thinking destroying metaphor while knowing what it is doing […] So it is not a matter of substituting one metaphor for another, which is the very movement of language and history, but of thinking this movement as such, thinking metaphor in metaphorizing it as such, thinking the essence of metaphor (this is all Heidegger wants to do). (190)

Now to move toward the conclusions of this contribution, I would like to refer more directly all of this to infrapolitical thinking and its relation to something like an infrapolitical narrative. Infrapolitical thought is always already the gesture of de-metaphorization of metaphysical closure.  Thinking the infrapolitical dimension of existence has always to do with challenging the threefold metaphysical closure of subject-community-history and within it any ethical-political pretension of exhausting existence as such. In this sense, I would feel comfortable saying that what infrapolitical thought is trying to do is “to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor” (224), or that is the same, it is trying to think historicity, Geschehen, through the suspension of ethico-political (hi)story-telling.

My question is if there is a possibility of narrative (that we can provisionally call an infrapolitical non-narrative) that would determine narratively the cipher of the non-narrative, ie. the non-narrative cipher of infrapolitical existence.  Thinking cannot really escape a certain degree of metaphoricity, but only interrupting it, it can make visible the possibility of non-metaphoricity as coextensive to metaphorical language.  The possibility of the non-metaphor is given only in the language itself as the – still linguistic and still metaphoric-  gesture of crossing out the trace of metaphor.

Is there then a possible relation to story-telling able to cross the narrative closure? Is there a possible negative narrative that solicits the privilege of present, the unity and continuity, the Zusammenheit, the ipseity of life and community in order to let the infrapolitical dimension of existence be?

Because, if there is such a narrative, than it seems clear to me that it is the only one apt to build something like a democratic community. Only a community built on the ground of the impossibility of communitarian closure –both in terms of subjectivity and historicity – a community that thinks infrapolitically its own impossible Zusammenheit can be ‘something like a democratic community.’

The question is about a narrative able to make present (of course is still a narrative so the trace of the privilege of present cannot help but being there) the ecstatic temporality of existence, where the primacy of the projection toward the future, toward its potentiality as who is always already thrown in-the-world, which is a condition always already an a-synchronically shared with other Dasein that are indeed mitsein.



On Geoffrey Bennington Scatter 1: The politics of philosophy. By Maddalena Cerrato

IMG_6887I am extremely pleased to be here to discuss this book, since it is a very good book, and I mean a “good book” in some sort of “technical” sense… that I would like to try sketch out here as a preliminary self-absolving preamble to my remarks referring to Bennington’s notion of reading.

Good books in a “technical” sense are those books that talk to you in a way that triggers a powerful mixture of projections and magical thinking that makes you feel like what you are reading is concerned about your very own thinking. That is to say – if you allow me to play a little bit more with Heideggerian terms – not that what you are reading somehow reminds you of some dispersed thoughts that initially and for the most part occupied your mind, rather it means that your thinking concerned about your own existence seems to be at stake in what you are reading. Neither this or that everyday thought, nor even a particular “I-have-thought” or “I-was-just-thinking,” but rather an originary thinking that embodies the ecstatic character of temporality and the priority of the future in it. One could say that, technically, “good books” are those books that let themselves be read as though they were concerned about your thinking as thinking that has always-already been there as what is-to-be-thought, as thinking that is projecting toward a potentiality of thinking that has always been there. Ultimately, I am suggesting that we could then define “technically good books” on the basis of such an experience of undecidability between reading and thinking that is at the heart of the reading as Bennington suggests. The specific task of reading is always already exposed to (quote) “potential confusion of authorial ‘voices’ and responsibilities –of who is saying what, who is signing or countersigning what in whose name-“ (55) (end quote). And, such confusion opens up to moments of  undecidability and potential for Täushungs (self-deceit) that concern both the “content” of the reading and the fact of the readings themselves.  So, the sort of intellectual vertigo that marks the experience of a good book, is one of the degrees of undecidability involved in reading, intended as interruption of the hermeneutic closure, to which Scatter1 attests. On this ground, pushing it a little bit further, good books would be those that offer the Kairos for a reading to the extent that they offer a moment of undecidability, that is a moment (an Augenblick) of both “in-sight” and blindness, namely, a moronic moment (see 183). In this sense, the reading of good books always already enacts the “politics of reading,” a decision that interrupts the undecidability at the same time that it interrupts the pretense of interpretative fulfilment.

Ok, maybe, I could have just said that I really enjoyed this book which is very subtle in its analysis and elegant in its argumentative structure, and it gave me plenty of food for thought, but this wouldn’t have given me any excuse to say that if my remarks on “pseudo-Bennington” sound moronic this is none of my fault since it is the book’s itself…for being a good book.

My reading of this book and of the ongoing argument presented – which is indeed not so scattered –  has been marked by the fantasmic presence of many entangled layers of thinking where I dwelled in one way or another for  many years, as well as by the active intrusion of my reading of the multiple readings hosted by another good (even if maybe a little too ambitious) book -Reiner Schürmann’s Broken Hegemonies– and, lastly and more relevantly, by the overall projection into and toward the thought of infrapolitics.  The only – still completely self-referential – way to try to summarize and frame the countless inquietudes, questions, and suggestions emerging from such an explosive mixture is referring them to the relationship between philosophy and community, or maybe in the triad politics-philosophy-community taken in the broadest possible sense.

Behind the doubling up of politics in the locution “politics of politics” where Bennington’s reading starts, there is the inability of dogmatism and moralism to exhaust the realm of politics, to capture it into their normative conceptual structure. Behind this kind doubling up that does not invest only politics, but actually any other practice and or discourse concerned with it, there is an inability of teleological thinking to exhaust the possibility of Being, or rather, Being as a possibility that is always already the possibility of failure, or of the pseudos as primordial distortion. Such an inability calls for an intervention that interrupts with a foolish decision both the attempt of teleological closure of the political by political philosophy, that is also the attempt of metaphysical closure of Being, as well as (it interrupts) the misery/ordeal of undecidability which will still mark, in the mode of spectrality, the decision itself.  “The politics of politics” is a mode of a double rescue of politics from teleology both from its inherently autoimmune (self-destructive) logic – which indeed, as shown by deconstruction, affects all ethico-political concepts worthy of the name, as well as from its failure in exhausting politics.  Such a doubling up of politics is a rhetorical-political gesture that interrupts the teleology, but saves the eskhaton. This eschatological dimension, separated and rescued from teleology, is the possibility of politics in the form of the possibility a scatter of eskhata, of events of decision emerging from the undecidability of truth.

Here is my main inquietude. What is at stake in the ontotheological approach to the undecidability of truth, that is, substantially, the moralistic-dogmatic denial of it, is a certain task of philosophy. What this originary possibility of deceit threatens is, overall, philosophy’s role with regards to the community. As Schürmann put it- this is promoting “the koinon to the level of normative instance capable of consoling the soul and consolidating the city” (9).  There is no room for the equi-primordial pseudos, for originary possibility of distortion or deceit, if the philosopher needs to be able to console the soul and consolidate the city, that is, to absolve of his public function posing the koinon, the common, the norm that legitimizes theoretical and practical rules, as the bond that binds a community. To secure the stability of the laws governing knowledge and acting of the community, to preserve the norm that legitimizes theoretical and practical rules that bind the community, the traditional (political-)philosopher needs to secure the logic of subsumption without remainder through what Schürmann calls the denial of the transgressive withdrawal of singular and of the tragic condition, meaning the denial of the ordeal of undecidability of truth. Ultimately, to preserve the public duty of the philosopher, to secure his function of consoling the soul and consolidating the city as what Schürmann calls the “professional philosopher” – which is (quote) “an altogether bureaucratized version of the philosopher-king” – is what seems still to be at stake both in Foucault’s reclaiming of philosophical parrhesia, as well as in Heidegger’s Entschlossenheit.

The suspicion is that after the end of metaphysics, with the failure of onto-theology, what is at stake in the rescue of the task of the philosopher as the one that institutes the common, the possibility of the community, is the idea that this task represents the only possible ground for something as a community of the so-called philosophers or- as Derrida says – a community of the question.  If this is true, can we then say that at stake in the politics of politics’ rescue of politics is it still what we can call “the politics of philosophy”, meaning the relation of the philosopher with the community in the double instance of the political community and of the philosophical community?

But, how should we then understand the deconstructive and deconstructed triad politics-philosophy-community?  The scatter of eskhata gathering up in the idea of politics of politics certainly cannot be regard as something that builds and organizes something like “an historical community of destiny,” of a community worthy of its name. But if this is the case, this means that – and I guess this is my own haunted decision in this reading – that such a rescued dimension of politics can only be thought as posthegemonic politics.  And, that in this sense the thinking of the existential unconditional conditions of such a politics, the excess, the dignity of life that is since it is marked by the “necessarily-possibly-not” in always already a demi-dignité, seems to be what we have been calling infrapolitics as a common name, a demi-title that happens to gather a scatter of readings (sometimes of good books), that is indeed haunted by its always-necessarily-possible indignity. [1442words = 11min.]

Maddalena Cerrato (Texas A&M University), March 2017

“Infrapolitics in-between” Thinking with Heidegger, Foucault and Schürmann. By Maddalena Cerrato.

[Here there are some notes about what we were discussing throughout the first two sessions of the seminar….I apologize in advance for my still unsteady english…especially since I do not have the english versions of the texts I am referring to…] During the seminar’s last session, at some point, Alberto posed the question “What happens before subjectivation?”, as a question that could lead toward the space where infrapolitical theoretical practice takes place. So, taking that as a Leitfrage (leading question) and working with Heidegger and Foucault in their indirect connection through Schürmann’s reflexions on both of them, I would like to try suggest the possibility of thinking infrapolitics as a possible “in-between” (something like the heideggerian der Zwishen) subjectivations. The Dasein is always-already thrown into a world, or in Foucaultian terms we could say that individual is always-already subject to the normative order of the regime of truth in force. And that world, that regime of truth, always historically determined, constitutes the arché, the principles of a subjectivation where the human being find himself always-already thrown, insofar as an radically historical being (this is the Da of the Dasein). I would say that this is the archic, historical and heteronomous subjectivation, that constitutes the individual as a subject, gives form to his consciousness, and that is interiorized as identity, or perhaps better as multifold overlapping identities. As Schürmann wrote in his beautiful essay about Foucault: “ ‘Self-identity’, endlessly invoked, thus results from interiorized, although heteronomous, subjection. Self-identity is self-objectivation accepted and enforced as self-subjection.” For Foucault, indeed, government of the individuals happens always in a double modality: the exterior domination, through which the individual is subject to the norm and to the other’s control, and, on the other hand, the identitarian recognition, through which the individual is tied to an interiorized form of the normative framework. “This form of power applies itself to immediate everyday life which categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which the others have to recognize in him. It is a form of power which makes individuals subjects. There are two meanings of the word subject: subject to someone else by control and dependence, and tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge. Both meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to.” (Foucault, The Subject and the Power) This is the first subjectivation, that I would say corresponds to the identitarian fiction, referring to last week’s meeting and to Derrida’s ’64 seminar the ontic metaphor through which the Dasein thinks about himself…, the auto-hetero-grafic metaphorization…where the hetero- implies a normative element. The subjectivation to which Alberto’s leading-question referred, is a second subjectivation, the properly political one, the one in force of which the individual (as a single human being as well as a collective individual) acts insofar as (the als structure)…a specific political subject. This is a “willful” subjectivation that one can say works as the arché of a specific political practice. It can and cannot follow directly from the first subjectivation…in form of continuance as well as reaction/inversion… So, with respect to what we were talking about on Tuesday, what about thinking infrapolitical practice as an an-archic theoretical praxis that irrupts in between the two subjectivations? What about thinking the infrapolitical irruption as the possibility of a not-dialectic mediation that can possibly open up the possibility of a political subjectivation autonomous and an-anarchic with respect to normative horizons of a specific regime of truth into which we have always-already been thrown? In this sense, I would say that infrapolitics is a critical-deconstructive practice, a demetaphorization that takes as a departure point the excess, the difference, the difference, the trace, the secret, the haunting…the rest.. with respect to the first subjectivation, this is our thrownness, as well as with respect to the second one in its form of coming-toward-itself, of a possibility always-already there, in the perspective of the ectasis of Heideggerian Dasein‘s temporality…. It operates as a not-dialectic, not-normative, an-archic mediation that interrupts the self-identity of the consciousness, and that, at the very same time, takes a distance from, or interrupts the “transparency” of political response that is coming. Such a practice can be neither teleological nor deontological, since it cannot be founded on any universal principle and so it cannot become an object of either a prescription or a doctrine which could be handed down or taught. It cannot be guaranteed, it can be neither founded nor postulated as necessary: it can only happen as an act of thought whose possibility is always-already there…this is, I would say, because of what Heidegger called the ontic-ontological priority of Dasein. It can happen and it does not really matter whether in a more or less narrative form…what does matter is that it keeps a “distance from its own taking a distance.”…