Der Brauch: A Note on Transfigured Infrapolitics

“In the conflicted essence of Aletheia is concealed the thoughtful essence of Eris and Moira, in terms of which Physis is also named.”  (Heidegger, “Anaximander’s Saying 265)

After the publication of Infrapolítica.  Instrucciones de uso (Madrid: La oficina, 2020) and now its English version Infrapolitics. A Handbook (New York: Fordham UP, 2021) I receive occasional queries regarding infrapolitics.  The most pressing question takes the form of wanting to know about the unsaid: “what is it that you are holding back?,” as one person put it.  It is a complex question, and the answer is even more complicated, as I myself do not yet know it and can only guess, or push, or imagine.  Nobody thinks in a void, and for me the challenge has for a long time been to take Heideggerian and Derridean thought to an extreme, insofar as I can or know or could learn how to do it.  Not because of doxographic interests, rather because I find both of those thinkers particularly attuned to what is worthy of thought in an eminent sense today. And this is already getting into secrets and exposing myself–to my own incompetence, to start with, but not only. 

In any case this might be the time to start thinking not about factical infrapolitics, the massive factum of its presence in practical reason, common to everyone, but about what I have sometimes called transfigured or reflective infrapolitics: the attempt to think, and to live, making it explicit, explicitating that facticity, in each case one’s own, as a praxis of existence. I think that the guiding issue is a particular take on the very notion of thinking as a form of “passive decision,” which could in fact be Jacques Derrida’s translation of Eckhartian, and then Heideggerian, Gelassenheit.  Which has to do with letting things be, not in the sense of abstaining from interaction, rather in the sense of opening to them and caring for them.  Another no less complex way of putting it: if “the work of mourning” is the very motor of Hegelian dialectics, if Aufhebung is in that sense the (bogus) word of Being, then the radical interruption of mourning, which leads to a different relation to death, which lets death be rather than appropriate it, is the motor of infrapolitics.  What could we make of a notion of thought, therefore of existential practice, that rejects mourning as a structuring principle?  It opens a different understanding of time, and of the time of life. 

I keep going back to Heidegger’s 1946 extraordinary essay “Anaximander’s Saying.”  Heidegger concludes that essay–itself published as the conclusion to an extraordinary collection of essays, Off the Beaten Track (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002), from 1950 in the original German–by proposing a translation of Anaximander’s word to khreon, which is usually rendered as “the necessary,” with the German word der Brauch.  Brauch includes the notion of use, or usage.  Heidegger means to propose that as a good word to translate the “presencing” of what is present, that is, the first term of the ontological difference.  The “use” of something “hands it over to its own essence” (277).  If “to khreon is the oldest name in which thinking brings the being of beings to language” (274), then to khreon names the trace, what is for us a trace, of a forgetting: “The oblivion of being is oblivion to the difference between being and the being” (275). 

Use retains a trace of the ontological difference.  Say, the use of existence (Eris and Moira) is everyone’s apportionment, for a while.  Let us keep in mind the double genitive in that expression, “the use of existence.” There is existence, and then there is the use of existence. When did the use of existence take on the primary meaning of production: the production of existence, and existence as production?  Heidegger refers obscurely to the fateful rendering of Aristotle’s energeia as actualitas.  From actualitas we eventually move to objectivity.  But the use of existence retains an older meaning.  Can we retrieve it?  Is that not what infrapolitics proposes? 

There is a bifurcation.  That production is to be connected to the work of mourning is shown not just in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit but also in Marx’s mature work, from The German Ideology to Capital.  But what if we were to understand the imperative to “transform the world,” which Marx offers in the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, not in the sense of ergon but in the sense of khreon, use, usage? 

The use of existence, transfigured into a passive decision, prompts an interruption of the work of mourning: death is also to be let be, and not at the end of life, not just at the end of life.  In another essay from the same period, in fact a lecture that remained undelivered in the seminar devoted by Heidegger to What Is Called Thinking?, in the early 1950s, “Moira (Parmenides VIII, 34-41),” Heidegger concludes in a thoroughly enigmatic manner, as they are words that cannot be immediately connected to the rest of the essay: “As the outermost possibility of mortal Dasein, death is not the end of the possible but the highest keeping” (Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking 101). 

It seems to me, obscurely at this point, that the relation of the use of existence, in the bifurcated sense of the genitive, to death as highest keeping ciphers the secret of infrapolitics, if there is one.  But I wouldn’t know how to reveal it. 

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