We are within the region of what we discussed in class as the difference between “conventional” and “essential” thinking along Heideggerian lines–this is the crucial question of the class. The CHALLENGE: to bring that distinction to bear on historical issues, and on our relation to historical issues: in our case, the Apache Wars. My THESIS: the Apache Wars give us a hint as to what is to be thought, what is thought-worthy, and even most thought-worthy.
Conventional thinking keeps within the bounds of social ideology, of established custom and tradition, of the accumulation of truisms and common-sensical opinions, of political agreements and disagreements, of everydayness. It may and does appeal to historiography and technology, to ideas for progress, to suggestions that may have to do with how to improve something or other, even how to look for happiness, or for a “better,” in the sense of a more comfortable, life.
Essential thinking: it may start with the realization that, always already, “we have lost our tongues in foreign lands.” Conventional thinking, our everyday shelter, our customary ways of relating to the world, our mottos and inspirations and clichés–all of that is no longer cutting it for us, can no longer sustain us. All of that comes to be seen as a form of narcosis that is killing us, and something needs to be done. But what?
If conventional thinking is essential distraction, then essential thinking is essential attention. Attention to what? To what withdraws, to what remains concealed, to what protects itself in its essence and, in a sense, fears us.
Heidegger says: What is most thought-worthy? And he responds: what is most thought-worthy is that we are still not thinking. And Heidegger hints that things may be worse now than at any other historical time. “Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking” (6). And why not? What is keeping us?
“That we are still not thinking stems from the fact that the thing itself that must be thought about turns away from the human, has turned away long ago” (7).
And yet it is near us. It calls for thinking, it still and always calls for thinking. And yet it withdraws. It keeps withdrawing. It beckons and hides. It is difficult. It is the simplest.
“We can learn thinking only if we radically unlearn what thinking has been traditionally” (8).
“What must be thought about turns away from the human. . . Withdrawal is an event. In fact, what withdraws may even concern and claim the human more essentially than anything present that strikes and touches them” (8-9).
“Drawn into what withdraws, drawing toward it and thus pointing into the withdrawal, the human first is the human. The essential nature of the human lies in being such a pointer” (9).
A break is needed. Heidegger calls it “the leap.” “The leap alone takes us into the neighborhood where thinking resides” (12). “The leap takes us abruptly to where everything is different” (12).
We should think about this leap. It is a leap into nearness. “What withdraws in such a manner keeps and develops its own, incomparable nearness” (17). “Thinking itself is the human’s simplest, and for that reason hardest, handiwork, if it would be accomplished at its proper time” (16-17).
The Apache Wars can be understood as a gigantic confrontation between Western humans and the earth. The West took it upon itself to conquer the world. The Western subject turned everything else into objects, and objects are there for the taking, for dominion, for exploitation and gain. The Western subject designed and took upon itself a particular fate, a fateful confrontation with the planet. But there was much in that enterprise that remained unthought.
At the beginning of his second lecture Heidegger quotes the German poet Hölderlin again: “Who the deepest has thought, loves what is most alive.” In a different seminar, a seminar taught in the Summer of 1944 on the Greek thinker Heraclitus, Heidegger also referred to that line by Hölderlin. And he said: “This makes it sound as though the love for what is most alive is a consequence of thinking, as though this love activates itself once thinking has been consummated. Yet, the truth is otherwise: it is rather the case that thinking is itself the love, the love for what is ‘most alive,’ for that in which all that is alive has gathered itself in life” (Heraclitus 161). As it turns out, then, love and thinking are conjoined in essential thinking, but “not as an indistinct monotony, but rather as a conjoined simplicity whose unity as thinking and life is named but nevertheless remains unsaid” (161).
Given recent discussions on philosophy and politics, given philia tou sophou, as love of what is fateful, love of what-is-to-be-thought, love of what is most alive, indeed if philosophy today can still be considered essential thinking in those senses (most philosophy departments are innocent of all of it), the question is also a question about infrapolitics: is infrapolitics not the love of what is “most alive” in politics, namely, that which, in politics, belongs not to the technical, not to the will to will, not to will to power, but to something else whose nature today we may have forgotten, has withdrawn from us, given what goes under the name of politics everywhere, every time? The demand concerning that excess from politics, and springing from it, is always in every case an infrapolitical demand.
I will not belabor this too much. Only to propose to you, preliminarily and only in an approximate manner, that essential thinking may be connected to infrapolitics, to what I am calling infrapolitics. So our question about the Apache Wars will become a question regarding the infrapolitics of the Apache Wars. Perhaps that is also thought-worthy.
We have seen an example of conventional, albeit humane, enlightened thinking in the work of Spanish Army Corps of Engineers Lieutenant José Cortés. The issue regarding Uncle Ethan in The Searchers is more complex. Indeed, the question regarding him would be whether he accomplishes a leap from conventional to essential thinking at the end of the film.
“The essence of technology is above all not anything technological. The essence of technology lies in what from the beginning and before all else gives food for thought” (22).
Technology has been the destiny of Western science. Heidegger claims this destiny is part of the first beginning of the West, in the language and thought of the ancient Greeks. An ineludible part, a fateful part.
Technology, which today rules the world, not just the West, makes demands of its own. We can see the danger there. Technology, in its present configuration, in its will to power and sway over the social, no matter how innovative, how brilliant, how productive it may be, does not belong in essential thinking. It is on the other side of what we have called “the twofold.”
Essential thinking is also thinking about what withdraws in technology, which is nothing technological.
Could we not consider the full array of Western techniques of dominion part of Western technology? Is the “Conquest of the West” not primarily a technological accomplishment? Self-deploying technology—it moves because it must. Whatever it takes, wherever it leads. “And that such matters have remained unthought is indeed first of all due to the fact that the will to action, which here means the will to make and be effective, has overrun and crushed thought” (25).
Can we then learn listening (to what withdraws)? Can we teach listening? Teaching means let learn.
Or should we give ourselves over, thoroughly and completely, to the “one-track thinking” that characterizes our society and which is, according to Heidegger, thoroughly ruled over by the technological imperative? Even psychotherapy is today a technology of the soul, which is why most practitioners prefer pills. It is easier. Narcosis is always easier.
“And when man no longer sees the one side as one side, he has lost sight of the other side as well” (33).
But is the other side one of catastrophe? Should we be pessimistic, critical, merely destructive? No. The other side is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Which does not make it a matter of indifference. On the contrary, there is nothing “indifferent” about it. “What is most thought-provoking—especially when it is man’s highest concern—may well be also what is most dangerous. Or do we imagine that a man could even in small ways encounter the essence of truth, the essence of beauty, the essence of grace—without danger?” (31).
In fact, there is narcosis because it is less dangerous. Except that, at some point, narcosis becomes infinitely more dangerous.
What if the entire history of the West were interpreted as the history of a monumental narcosis? Heidegger only says: we need to awaken to what is most thought-worthy. These are dangerous times.
“the thing that matters first and foremost, and finally, is not to drop the tree in bloom, but for once let it stand where it stands. Why do we say “finally”? Because to this day thought has never let the tree stand where it stands” (44).
Pages on Nietzsche follow. Nietzsche is presented by Heidegger as the last thinker of the West, in a sense: the man who summed it all up for our age, and collapsed with a mental breakdown before he could finish his work. He said: “the wasteland grows” but he could only see himself as the thinker of a transition. Interestingly, Nietzsche’s times were also the times of the Apache Wars.
We need, Heidegger says, to encounter Nietzsche, to “find him” first so that we may then “lose him.”
Nietzsche would be, for our age, Heidegger says, “the representative of traditional thinking” (55). The highest representative. And something else: “Nietzsche sees clearly that in the history of Western man something is coming to an end: what until now and long since has remained uncompleted. Nietzsche sees the necessity to carry it to a completion” (55).
He proposes two figures: the “last man” and “the overman.” Who is the last man? (You should take this as a joke, but in terms of jokes we couldn´t do better: say, Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz are last men).
At the time, the end of the 19th century, when “man is about to assume dominion of the earth as a whole” (57), or thinks he can (and we know better now: our “dominion” is leading the planet to catastrophe), “the last man is the man who is no longer able to look beyond himself, to rise above himself for once up to the level of his task, and understand that task in a way that is essentially right” (57).
Against the last man Nietzsche thought of the overman as a transitional figure: somebody who could in fact take all the consequences of his own position: “The superman is the man who first leads the essential nature of existing man over into its truth, and so assumes that truth. Existing man, by being thus determined and secured in his essential nature, is to be rendered capable of becoming the future master of the earth—of wielding to high purpose the powers that will fall to future man in the nature of the technological transformation of the earth and of human activity” (59).
And is this not in a deep sense the way the United States in the late 19th century, at the time of the Apache Wars, thought of itself? The United States: the overpower, the power that could in fact accomplish total dominion over the earth: the West of the West. The Apache Wars were in that context a minor nuisance, but also a necessity, a necessary nuisance.
But there is a danger that the overman is a fantasy, that the overman is only the projection of the last man—a desperate projection, whatever the last man projects ahead in a blinking dream.
If that is so, should we not attempt an altogether other thinking? A new beginning for thought?
It starts with attempting to pass to the other side of the two-foldness. In a dialogue with “traditional thinking” that will eventually become a confrontation with it. That already is a confrontation with it.
This is the ambiguity in Nietzsche: who is the overman? A ridiculous projection of the last man, or something else? Altogether something else?
“It is a most important part of Nietzsche’s way of thought to go beyond man as he is so far, beyond man in his as yet undetermined nature, into the complete determination of his whole nature up to this point. Fundamentally, Nietzsche’s way of thought does not want to overthrown anything—it merely wants to catch up to something” (68-69).
But what if . . . ? If we could conceive of the overman in the context of essential thinking.
The overman—the human that goes over what historical humanity has produced so far.
“the thing that the overman discards is precisely our boundless, purely quantitative nonstop progress. The overman is poorer, simpler, tenderer and tougher, quieter and more self-sacrificing and slower of decision, and more economical of speech” (69).
Incidentally, even in that description, or precisely in that description, the overman is starting to sound to me like the overwoman.
And who is to say certain representatives of historical humanity who were annihilated and laid waste to by dominant historical humanity did not have in themselves the real possibility of essential thinking? Say, the Apaches. Who is to say?