Please do not think of the remarks that follow as in any way finished work. I will be attempting to pull together, provisionally enough, some thoughts that recent reading has suggested to me in the wake of my own attempt to think about the implications of what I, along with some others, have been calling infrapolitics. They are connected rather loosely to Jacques Derrida’s Donner le temps II, and in particular to what seems to me his ultimately undecisive effort to deal with Heidegger’s “On Time and Being.” I will be speaking primarily of “On Time and Being,” then, but I will be speaking in an off-piste manner, as skiers say, for which I apologize in advance, by way of commenting on the seminar discussions that took place in the wake of Heidegger’s lecture as reported to us. My going off-piste is particularly dangerous, because I have only skied a couple of times in my life. But I will take the risk, on the basis of some hints offered in the Heideggerian primary text, which my remarks do not aim to account for in any remotely exhaustive way. I will also have to be very brief, as you know. I will try to offer three remarks, then. Let me anticipate its contents: the first remark will be on uncanny propriation; the second on the refusal of world; the third on a new analytic of existence, which would be the matter of infrapolitics.
I. Uncanny Propriation
In the “Summary of a Seminar on the Lecture ‘Time and Being,'” which as you might remember was written as the seminar protocol by one of the guests Heidegger had invited to his Todtnauberg cabin in 1962, Alfred Guzzoni, we find the following introductory words:
The experimental quality of the seminar was thus twofold: on the one hand, it wanted to point directly at a matter which in accordance with its very nature is inaccessible to communicative statements. On the other hand, it had to attempt to prepare the participants for their own experience of what was said in terms of an experience of something which cannot be openly brought to light. It is thus the attempt to speak of something that cannot be mediated cognitively, not even in terms of questions, but must be experienced. The attempt to speak of it with the intention of preparing for this experience essentially constituted the daring quality of the seminar. (Heidegger, On Time and Being 26)
It is interesting that these claims according to which the seminar only points to a matter of thinking that will remain inaccessible to communicative statements, in other words, a matter that cannot be said, only experienced, are made in the context of a clarification concerning the decline of philosophy. This decline is defined in three ways: on the one hand, “although metaphysics itself presumably remains,” “the matter of thinking is no longer the matter of metaphysics” (26). There are only substitutes, which are, “on the one hand, mere interpretation of the traditional philosophical texts” and, on the other, “the replacement of philosophy by logic . . ., psychology, and sociology, in short, by anthropology” (26). And the interpretation of philosophical texts assumes two forms, namely, “the polishing and dismantling of metaphysics” (26), unless, that is, Heidegger means that the polishing and the dismantling are in fact one and the same form, which is likely. In either case, I think these sentences could be brought together with a particular passage in What is Called Thinking that says: “Thinking–more precisely, the attempt and the duty to think–is now approaching an era when the high demands which traditional thinking believed it was meeting, and pretended it had to meet, become untenable.” (What is Called 159). Thinking, in the way we are and have been used to, has become untenable.
The untenability of philosophical reflection, and the insufficiency of its substitutes, mean that philosophy, or thinking through communicative statements, can no longer fulfill its duty. What must come instead is in the nature of what Heidegger had called a little earlier in the same text “the keep” (150). “The ‘keep’ originally means the custody, the guard” (150). The custody of what? Well, of the gift. Heidegger says: “The highest and really most lasting gift given to us is always our essential nature, with which we are gifted in such a way that we are what we are only through it” (142). “But the thing given to us, in the sense of this dowry, is thinking” (142). And: “Man only inhabits the keeping of what gives him food for thought–he does not create the keeping” (151). And: “Keeping is the fundamental nature and essence of memory” (151). Man does not create the keeping but must think about the keep; in fact thinking is the keep, in and through memory. On that basis, I think it is not inaccurate to say that the preparation for the experience of thinking that the seminar on “Time and Being” proposes, according to the protocol, is a preparation for the experience of what I will call an anthropogenetic memory which, in order to arise as such, must undergo a considerable amount of erasure, of forgetting. It is a matter of reaching, perhaps wordlessly, even if through words, destructive words, since words prepare the experience only on the condition of giving themselves up, the site of the keep. It is a site that can only be experienced, and indeed experienced as a gift, since man does not create the keep, and can only inhabit it as one inhabits one’s own essential nature. The experience of the keep is an experience of encounter with one’s own essential nature–that statement is warranted by the quotes I just provided, and of course in many other sites in the Heideggerian work. Let me leap into the first thing I wanted to propose to you, all too provisionally: the experience of the keep is an experience of uncanny propriation.
Uncanny propriation is the notion that Derrida develops in the Seventh Session of Given Time II on the basis of a reading of some segments of Being and Time. “Propriation of expropriation,” Derrida says (45), because it responds to a call that “addresses an irreplaceable singularity of Dasein . . . The call is always destined to that unfamiliar, strange thing that is the individuation or the singularity of a Dasein . . . And this Unheimlichkeit has to do with the fact that provenance is also destination” (44). Provenance is also destination–hence the exercise of thinking that prepares the experience of the encounter is an exercise of memory stretching into the immemorial, and the immemorial is the keep. The keep is the destination, but the destination is the essential nature of Dasein, hence the uncanny provenance of the human. It can only be, let us remember it, experienced, not described. At the same time, the experience is not warranted, not promised, not given, and it can only be prepared. The encounter of provenance and destination, which essential thinking can only prepare at the time of the untenability of conventional thinking, might well be an unreachable site, a non-place, an uncanny gift that “cannot be openly brought to light.” In preparation for the experience of the encounter, which I have called anthropogenetic, since it points to the site of the becoming human of the human, we do not receive the gift, we can only establish an uncanny relation to the gift. And of what follows, if it were to follow, we cannot speak.
In the 1944 seminar on Heraclitus Heidegger advances the notions of essential thinking and conventional thinking. I think both notions, and their polarity, which is itself an uncanny polarity, refer back not just to Heidegger’s first encounter with Parmenides and his three ways, one of which was impassable, a no-way, but more precisely to the notions of Eigentlichkeit and Uneigentlichkeit in Being and Time, sometimes translated as “authenticity” and “inauthenticity;” and, in a difficult way that it would require time to elucidate, forward to the notions of Ereignis and Enteignis in “On Time and Being.” I am not claiming that those three pairs of notions are equivalent or identical, only that they have a certain sameness. If essential thinking can be connected to propriation in a more or less straightforward way, and if essential thinking leads to the experience of Ereignis, it is not so clear that inauthenticity and conventional thinking, the thinking of das Man, have a straighforward connection to Enteignis, although it would be difficult to justify the claim that there is no relation between them. But Ereignis and Enteignis are both notions that relate to the uncanny, almost impossible task of thinking at once the mutual belonging and forthbringing, the mutual bearing of Es gibt Zeit and Es gibt Sein, of the taking-place of beyng and the taking-place of time, which is simultaneously the taking-place of place itself. Enteignis is what properly dis-appropriates, that is, always already withdraws into expropriation, the withdrawal and the concealing that makes the very possibility of the experience of Ereignis uncanniness itself. The very possibility of essential thinking finds a limit, which is its necessary or inescapable concealment–essential thinking cannot think beyond the taking-place of thought, even if thinking beyond the taking-place of thought, that is, thinking the expropriation of thought, is precisely a condition of thinking the keep, of achieving custody of it. But this means that the fulfillment of the “duty of thought,” in the Heideggerian expression, is also its interruption. The limit of thought is the accomplishment of thought.
Guzzoni writes that at the end of the fifth seminar session the letter that Heidegger wrote to William Richardson and which was later published as a preface to Richardon’s Heidegger: From Phenomenology to Thought was read out loud in order “to clear out the relations” in the path leading from Being and Time to “Time and Being” (On Time and Being 51). In that letter we find an indication of the uncanniness we have been discussing. Heidegger is making an effort to clarify for Richardson, who had himself attended Heidegger’s first presentation of his lecture, the Kehre or “reversal” of his thought, and he says, in Richardson’s translation:
The reversal between Being and Time, between Time and Being, is determined by the way Being is granted, Time is granted [wie Es Sein, wie Es Zeit gibt]. . . If instead of “Time” we substitute: the lighting-up of the self-concealing (that is proper to) the process of coming-to-presence, then Being is determined by the scope of Time. This comes about, however, only insofar as the lighting-process of self-concealment assumes unto its want [in seinem Braucht nimmt] a thought that corresponds to it. (The process of) presenc-ing (Being) is inherent in the lighting-up of self-concealment (Time). (The) lighting-up of self-concealment (Time) brings forth the process of presenc-ing (Being). (Richardson, Heidegger xx)
Self-concealment is a clearing, Lichtung, that belongs to Time and Being, but only when self-concealment assumes unto its want, in seinem Braucht nimmt, “a thought that corresponds to it.” This thought that corresponds to self-concealment is a thought of expropriation, which means, an expropriated thought. In the last pages of “Time and Being” the notion of expropriation, Enteignis, shows up briefly, in only one paragraph. Heidegger says:
Insofar as the destiny of Being lies in the extending of time, and time, together with Being, lies in Appropriation, Appropriating makes manifest its peculiar property, that Appropriation withdraws what is most fully its own from boundless unconcealment. Thought in terms of Appropriating, this means: in that sense it expropriates itself of itself. Expropriation belongs to Appropriation as such. But this expropriation, Appropriation does not abandon itself–rather, it preserves what is its own. (On Time and Being 22-23)
The thought that corresponds to the self-concealment of Time and Being undergoes expropriation. It is only as expropriated thought, which is, as corresponding thought, both the fulfillment and the interruption of appropriation, that is, uncanny propriation, that the custody of the gift, the guard of the keep, may take place in the abyss of place. Provenance and destination encounter each other in the non-place of an expropriated essence, an interrupted anthropogenesis.
II. The Refusal of World
The untenability or irrelevance of the philosophical word find its counterpart in the thinking that prepares for an experience of uncanny propriation. If thinking is then precursory, it is precursory regarding an experience that can be sought but never promised. The experience is thought of as countermovement to a certain “refusal of world” that I would like to discuss.
The constellation of beying, in Heidegger’s time, presumably still our time, is marked, according to Heidegger, by Gestell, a sending of beying, perhaps the last sending of beying, variously rendered in English as Enframing or Positionality. Positionality is the most extreme sending of beying. As most extreme it guards a concealed possibility, which is described as an awakening. If Gestell is the site of the most extreme forgetting of beyng, the awakening is described as a “return” or a “step back.” It is a step back of a curious nature: not into remembrance, but into oblivion itself: “not an extinguishing of the oblivion of Being, but placing oneself in it and standing within it;” the awakening is “from the oblivion of Being to the oblivion of Being” (On Time and Being 30). This awakening is called Ereignis. With respect to Ereignis, the summary tells us, Gestell is a “preliminary appearance” (32). With more clarity the summary will later say:
Between the epochal formations of Being and the transformation of Being into Appropriation stands Framing. Framing is an in-between stage, so to speak. It offers a double aspect, one might say, a Janus head. It can be understood as a kind of continuation of the will to will, thus as an extreme formation of Being. At the same time, however, it is a first form of Appropriation itself. (53)
Gestell is the preliminary appearance of Ereignis because it holds the concealed possibility of the awakening into the oblivion of beyng. The awakening is in that sense also an awakening into the end of the history of beyng: “the history of Being is at an end for thinking in Appropriation, that is, for the thinking which enters into Appropriation, in that Being, which lies in sending, is no longer what is to be thought explicitly” (41); “That means that the withdrawal which characterized metaphysics in the form of the oblivion of Being now shows itself as the dimension of concealment itself. But now this concealment does not conceal itself” (41). That the concealment does not conceal itself and must be thought as concealment is expropriation. What corresponds in thought to the awakening into concealment is uncanny propriation, expropriated thought, fulfillment as interruption. This is the moment of the gift: no more sending, only giving, but what gives gives itself as concealment, an uncanny gift. The gift calls for precursory thinking, but it leads to the suspension of thinking in experience. At perhaps the wildest moment in the seminar it is said: “thinking . . . is not yet the experience. But what is this experience? Is it the abdication of thinking?” (53). And in a sense it certainly is.
In the last page of the summary Guzzoni tells us that the lecture entitled “The Turn” was read in the last session of the seminar as a conclusion. And it is here that the refusal of world shows up. Let us read “The Turn” in order to clarify the notion. In “The Turn” Heidegger says: “this turn from the forgetting of being to the guardianship of the essence of beyng only takes place when the danger, pivotal in its concealed essence, first properly presences as the danger that it is” (Bremen and Freiburg Lectures 67). “The danger is the epoch of beyng, essencing as positionality” (68). The con-version of Gestell into Appropriation is the awakening from the most extreme oblivion to oblivion itself:
When this pursuit with forgetting properly takes place, then forgetting as such makes an entrance. Torn out of its lapsing by this entrance, it is no longer forgetfulness. Through such an entrance, the forgetfulness of the guardianship of beying is no longer the forgetting of beyng, but by entering it turns into the guardianship of beyng. (69)
The con-version from oblivion to oblivion is described as a “lightning flash” that occurs in experience, “suddenly” and “without mediation” (69). Through it, however, “the world takes place” (69). “That the world would take place as world, that the thing would thing, this is the distant arrival of the essence of beyng itself” (69). That the world worlds, that the thing things, that Ereignis er-eignet–in the lighting flash (Einblitz) of an experience without mediation–only this vanquishes the refusal of world that obtains in “unguarded being” (70). “The constellation of beyng is the refusal of world as the unguarding of the thing. Refusal is not nothing, it is the highest secret of beyng within the dominance of positionality” (72). Guarding the thing, keeping the gift, is having come into the keep in uncanny propriation. It is the turning around of the refusal of world. I think this is the simplicity always promised by Heidegger’s thinking endeavor.
III. A New Analytic of Existence
So, what do we make of it? Laurence Paul Hemming said a couple of weeks ago in the course of a seminar that Heidegger never meant to move forward from Being and Time. In that sense, he only moved backwards, in a movement of return, a step back towards the immemorial keep that, he finally said, would only come to us in an Einblitz, a flashing of truth. Disquieting and decisive as it might seem, the open clearing where the thing things and the world worlds cannot be the end of the line. It is only a beginning. The Einblitz into uncanny propriation is only a beginning. Guardianship of the keep is thinking, in the Heideggerian sense, of which he said in “The Turn:” “thinking is the authentic action (Handeln), where action means to give a hand (an die Hand gehen) to the essence of beyng” (Bremen 67). This action is to be carefully delimited from production, presented by Heidegger as the fundamental characteristic of action in metaphysical thought. In the “Summary to ‘Time and Being,'” once again, we read:
The presencing of what is present–that is, letting-presence: what is present–is interpreted by Aristotle as poiesis. Later interpreted as creatio, this leads in a straight line of admirable simplicity up to positing, as the transcendental consciousness of objects. Thus it becomes evident that the fundamental characteristic of the letting-presence of metaphysics is production in its various forms. (On Time and Being 45-46)
It is on us to investigate the possibility of an action that is not delimited by production–an action that gives otherwise a hand to the worlding of world and the thinging of thing. Heidegger was less than explicit on this and left us few indications. We can find two of them in the “Summary.” According to the first one, “after the meaning of Being had been clarified,” which means in this context, after the thought of Ereignis had been properly worked out, “the whole analytic of Dasein was to be more originally repeated in a completely different way” (32). It is safe to say that this new whole analytic of Dasein, no longer understood as fundamental ontology, was not developed and was left to be developed. I take it this is the true legacy of Heideggerian thought, and it is a legacy that involves leaving Heidegger behind and thinking things he never thought or at least never said. What I, along with some others, have been calling infrapolitics is meant to take on that legacy, which immediately means, to establish an understanding of action, both existential and political, that cannot be delimited by production and that does not exhaust itself in a productivist paradigm. This, as you may imagine, is easier said than done–production always lurks around the corner, since we are forced to think in the common language, and the common language is the language of metaphysics.
But the “Summary” gives us a second indication that might be useful. I am referring to the pages where the notion of “ontic models” comes up in rather tentative and even conflicting ways:
A thinking which thinks in models must not immediately be characterized as technological thinking . . . Rather, a model is that from which thinking must necessarily take off in such a way that that from which it takes off is what gives it an impetus. The necessity for thinking to use models is related to language. The language of thinking can only start from common speech. And speech is fundamentally historico-metaphysical . . . Viewed from this perspective, thinking has only the possibility of searching for models in order to dispense with them eventually. (50)
As I am running out of available time, let me cut to the chase and say that infrapolitics is to be thought of as an ontic model whose obviously critical intent–a destruction of the language and the action of politics determined by metaphysical enframing–does not exhaust its possibilities. The latter are to be understood as on the way towards an analytic of existence not conditioned by fundamental ontology. I think that, of all contemporary thinkers, Giorgio Agamben might be the one closest to this project through his investigation of the notion and the historical experience of forms-of-life. Forms of life are ontic models for existence. In his booklet entitled L’avventura, from 2015, and translated as The Adventure, Agamben proposes “adventure” as the best possible translation for Ereignis. It is a translation into an ontic model, a form of life. Departing from a notion explored in another book, What Is Philosophy, Agamben follows Heidegger by claiming that thinking is the repetition in memory of the anthropogenetic event, the becoming human of the human. If the latter is the “event of events,” that is, the “adventure of adventures,” then the adventure should not be understood metaphysically and ontotheologically as a form of “stolen time,” something purely external to the everydayness of life, something that we may choose to pursue out of a fallen desire for an aestheticization of existence, but rather as the form itself of thought, which ceaselessly repeats the becoming human of the human in a universe of sameness that does not exclude but rather appropriates difference. The adventure is for Agamben the Stoic lektón, that is, that which is sayable and expressible, as it otherwise would not come into being, but as sayable and expressible also what is livable and the ecstatic condition of existence.
Agamben chooses two formulations to refer to the form of life that exercises itself in the repetition of the anthropogenetic adventure: demonic life and poetic life. The emphasis on the demonic insists on the conversion of destiny into character and character into destiny–it is a praxis of adventure, an existential praxis in adventure. The emphasis on the poetic insists on the transfiguration of existence into a praxis of creation against the fallen temporality of those who relegate the adventure to stolen time, to expropriated time, to exceptional time. An adventure may end in misadventure, hence death, and eventually all of them do, but insofar as it holds as adventure it is poetic and demonic life: not an interpretation of the world but action and transformation of the world. This is why Agamben concludes: “a poetic life is the one which, in every adventure, maintains itself obstinately in relation not with an act, but a potency, not with a god but with a demigod” (88). It is an ontogenetic potency that repeats the anthopogenetic gift.
We are used to thinking that the intention or the pretension of politics is to recover stolen time, to expropriate the expropriators, to undo Enteignis through the power of Ereignis. But it is an empty pretension insofar as it fails to make explicit the form of life–the existential adventure–that such political action fosters or prepares. Production and consumption have been the default for political forms of life within metaphysics. So the political pretension requires an infrapolitical adjustment to find an appropriate sense. In demonic-poetic life, hence uncanny life, Agamben ciphers the open possibility of a form of life delivered or released into the ontogenetic repetition of the adventure of adventures.
Wellborn, Texas, November 2020
Giorgio Agamben, The Adventure. Translated by Lorenzo Chiesa. Boston: MIT Press, 2018.
—. What Is Philosophy. Translated by Lorenzo Chiesa. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2017.
Derrida, Jacques. Donner le temps II. Edited by Laura Odello, Peter Szendy, and Rodrigo
Therezo. Paris: Seuil, 2021.
Heidegger, Martin. Bremen and Freiburg Lectures. Insight Into That Which Is and Basic
Principles of Thinking. Translated by Andrew J. Mitchell. Bloomington: Indiana UP,
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—. What Is Called Thinking. Translated by J. Glenn Gray. New York: Harper, 1976.
Richardson, William J, S. J. Heidegger: From Phenomenology to Thought. The Hague: Martinus