The (Fourth) Way of Parmenides

I just happen to be reading Carl Schmitt’s book on dictatorship for a workshop in Colombia next month.  Schmitt moves toward the determination of what he calls sovereign dictatorship.  I could not help associating Schmitt’s musings on dictatorship with the paragraph in #22 of Heidegger’s seminar entitled The Beginning of Western Philosophy.  Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides that we started to discuss in a seminar led by Laurence Paul Hemming in London: “Being is sovereign or nothingness is, or else there is no sovereignty at all.  One who has acquired this insight has intuited Being in its essence.  Thereby, however, the basic decision takes place and so does the separation from those who do not differentiate at all; that now means: their differentiating is not guided by a view of Being in advance.  Yet this basic decision, krisis, is not primarily a separation from but, rather, an acquisition of the ground, an acquisition of the standing and holding amid the possessions of Diké, in her disposing.  More clearly: the axiomatic statement is a self-positioning into the disposing–grounding!” (125 in the English translation; 162 in the German GA 35. Note: in the German, Der Ur-satz ist ein Sich-Stellen in die Verfügung–Gründung! is underlined.)

Given the underlining, which the English translation suppresses, an underlining that is also present in the first line: Sein herrscht oder Nichts, oder es gibt überhaupt keine Herrschaft, we should not neglect the potential political overtones of this, which are emphasized by that curious exclamation point at the end of the paragraph.  After all, this seminar was given one year before the Rectoral Address.   The book Schmitt wrote after Dictatorship is a critique of parliamentary democracy, very much connected in Schmitt’s mind to the inanities of the Parmenidean third way: endless prattle and so forth.  Organizing a politics that could be “guided by a view of Being in advance”–was that not the point of krisis in the existential decision that led to Heidegger’s political commitment?  Which of course does not absolve us from attempting the same, although not in the Nazi way.

Heidegger’s 1942-43 lectures on Parmenides, presented as the battle of Stalingrad raged, were explicitly political, whereas the 1932 seminar is not, but my point is that the former’s politicity is grounded on precisely the idea that Heidegger’s entire political project was premised on the notion of the sovereignty of being, “guided by a view of Being in advance”–the possibility of which he finds in Parmenides.  So, yes, he was avoiding directly political thought at the very same time the political question was gaining on him.  The paragraph above gives us a glimpse into a first formulation of it, without which the Nazi commitment would be unexplainable because it would have come from nowhere.  Obviously we can formulate a politics “guided by a view of Being in advance” that would not be a Nazi politics, or would be explicitly anti-Nazi–and not understanding that certainly was Heidegger’s mistake. 

The 1942-43 lectures are extraordinary because through them Heidegger is trying to stick to the notion that the German destiny remains world-historical against the decline and corruption of a Roman-inflected politics of empire–meaning, German thought is properly anti-imperial–and to present that German destiny as an entirely other, namely, non-Roman, possibility, while understanding that Nazism was politically and militarily doomed: “Roman” domination, and with it the most important historical event in the West, which is, he says, the translation of the Greek fundamental words into Latin, later systematized in the Church (and the Spanish Inquisition makes an appearance there, for the first and only time in Heidegger’s oeuvre), organizes not only the planetary sway of metaphysics but also its counterpart, namely, a conception of the political based on the Roman understanding of imperial hegemony, which is basically the idea that you must get people to cooperate in and to their own submission.  But, Heidegger says, there is another possibility, a “German” possibility, a “re-translation,” the very idea of it comes to us from Parmenides, that is, from what it remains possible to read in Parmenides today.  That German re-translation of Parmenides is, as the power of the Wehrmacht confronted its own limits against the Red Army in the fateful winter of 1942-43, vanishing from the realm of effective worldly possibility and will remain only as a matter for thought.  My claim: all of that must already be read in nuce in the 1932 seminar, although it is true that there Heidegger is clearly withholding any political engagement, keeping away from it, not addressing it.

A few pages earlier in the 1932 seminar Heidegger makes an enigmatic remark that remains unpursued, or at least not explicitly pursued.  It refers to a Parmenidean fourth way.  The paragraph says:

“The first way, which alone is properly rich in prospects and which offers the entire wealth and pure fullness of Being, would not be understood as such and would also not be the one to travel on if the essential affiliation of the third way to the first were not grasped in unity with the first.  Yet something is still missing for the clarification of the ways, namely, the very way spoken of right at the beginning: the way to the goddess.  Neither itself–nor the second, nor the third, but instead: out from the crowd.  From the third to the first” Therefore, no first without the third, although that is not dealt with further.  Consequently, four ways . . . Thus, we need to note where Parmenides is coming from as a knowledgeable man when he makes the decision to set out for the gate of the dwelling of the goddess” (99 in the English translation; 129 GA 35). 

The horses that transport the thinker on the path of the goddess, following the thinkers’ disposition, follow a fourth path, the path itself of the thinker, which is a path not only from the third way to the first, but also a path linking the third way to the first through the very revelation of their connectedness: it is the revealing path, the path that finds a way through the other ways and beyond them, indeed the path that first shows the three ways as such.  It is the path that, by so doing, first opens the very possibility of a politics not reduced to the whimsical movements of the crowd.  The fourth Parmenidean way is the political way that, in turning away from the headless to-and-fro of the crowd, can then show anyone willing to see the possibility of a behavior, a praxis, “guided by a view of Being in advance.”     

The krisis opens the way to a politics of truth by turning from a politics of doxa.  But it is a krisis that grounds, not a krisis that breaks.  Bound by Diké.    

It seems to me we can pursue the thought of the Parmenidean fourth way, the way of the nameless goddess, without spurious claims concerning the German destiny and so forth.   The Parmenidean fourth way offers a point of orientation in the location of the doxa.  What remains essential is precisely that oriented localization, which is not a program, and is not a normative judgment.  But it opens the possibility of a politics.  It grounds a politics.                                 

12 thoughts on “The (Fourth) Way of Parmenides

  1. Interesante. Seguro hay mucho que no entiendo porque no me parece obvio que: we can formulate a politics “guided by a view of Being in advance” that would not be a Nazi politics, or would be explicitly anti-Nazi–and not understanding that certainly was Heidegger’s mistake. ¿Habría que entender la post-hegemonía democrática como “guided by a view of Being in advance”?


    1. Si! Y desde luego el representante contemporáneo de esa posición es ni más ni menos que Badiou, cuya ontologia política es explicita en ese sentido: solo la diferencia entre ser y existente puede proponer un “cambio” de mundo que no se agote en sí mismo, es decir, lo que él llama un cambio “orientado,” ordenado a la idea. Cf su seminario de 2010-12 Que signifie “changer le monde”? Además de sus obras mayores.


      1. Infrapolitica y posthegemonía son consecuencia de la postulación de la diferencia ontologica, por eso “guided by a view of Being in advance.”

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  2. Eso es lo que es comun con Badiou, que tambien es explicitamente posthegemonico y tematiza la existencia como lugar de la “vida verdadera.”


    1. Gabriela, copio aquí algo que puse en respuesta en otro foro: I never liked Adorno’s position on Heidegger, or that of the myriad imitators of Adorno down to the present time, and proliferating. We have a new book coming up, I won’t mention the author, which is a thorough denunciation of all thinking of finitude, and all thinking inspired by the thought of ontological difference in whatever guise, from Heidegger to Derrida, Nancy, Lacoue-Labarthe, Agamben, etc., as essentially reactionary, and claiming the Adornian heritage. No. I think Heidegger was right, and I share his position, in claiming that politics must be undertaken “guided by a view of Being in advance,” if I may use that line from #22 as a summary of what is at stake, which is huge. We can talk more about this, but I think we are in basic agreement there. Heidegger made, however, a grievous mistake, not just in siding with the Nazis for however brief a period, but also in basing his critique of Nazism, for instance in the Black Notebooks, but also in between the lines in Introduction to Metaphysics and in some of the seminars from the mid-1930s, in a sort of hyper-NationalSocialism that would also have led nowhere. He recoiled, he started to recoil, that is clear to me, but he recoiled sticking to the notion that only the thinking of Beyng, or Ereignis, could offer guidance, could become precursory or preparatory. And from there his thought slowly evolved and gave us hints to what would have become a much more seductive and use-ful (I have his concept of Brauch in mind here) understanding of politics and the political had he bothered to tackle it explicitly, which he did not. The TV interview with the German journalist in 1969, I believe, says so pretty clearly–he thought he could no longer and should not engage in political thought directly. So it is up to us. That is the legacy, somewhat tormented but at the end of the day crucial for us. And yes, I believe that other (not Nazi or hyper-NationalSocialist) thinking of politics is possible starting from Heidegger, who remains for me an essential thinker not only on his own terms but also as precursory to that other explicit understanding of political life. Schürmann somewhere says that even in Gelassenheit there is a “supreme interest” in worldly, that is, political affairs that needs attention.

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      1. Gracias. Sí me queda claro que infrapolítica y posthegemonía son consecuencia de la postulación de la diferencia ontológica. Pero como siempre esta terminología ontológica me genera dudas, pues hasta donde creo comprender, el punto de la infrapolítica sería que la diferencia como tal por sí misma escapa a toda postulación/tematización –y sólo en la experiencia dislocada de eso que no se puede decir surgiría la posibilidad de una disposición posthegemónica. Entonces, lo de “guided by a view of Being in advance” me suena demasiado “postulante”, por decirlo de algún modo, pero tal vez sea que no acabo de entender la expresión de modo que me parece ambigua y me genera suspicacia más que parecerme obvia o transparente. Otra cosa: me interesó muchísimo el tema de la deslegación en Infrapolítica Instrucciones de Uso, que creo que está conectado con esto último de si Heidegger estaba en lo correcto pero se equivocó. Anyway, perdona mi ignorancia, voy leyendo con atraso tus posts (y tantas otras cosas).


      2. El postulado axiomático no es: hay ser, sino “pensar y ser es lo mismo.” Heidegger lo llama Ur-Satz. Esa mismidad es en sí diferencial o diferenciante. Es una “transparencia” que pertenece a una fenomenologia de lo inaparente. Hay que llegar a ella, y no desde la “tercera vía” que empieza por negarla.

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  3. Está muy complejo el asunto; estoy echando mano de Martínez Marzoa para tratar de entender el asunto de los caminos, la díke, la dóxa, etc; no sé cuánto tiempo me tomará entender el Ur-Satz mismo, su contenido y su relación con el fourth way y, finalmente, su función de ‘grounding’ de todo compromiso político o existencial en Heidegger (de Badiou ni hablar). Tengo muchísimas dudas que iré intentando despejar pero por lo pronto me serviría al menos no confundir lo que estás intentando hacer con esto del Ur-Satz. Yo me había quedado en que: “Es verdad que la noción de infrapolítica no tiene por tanto raigambre hegeliana, y que se sustrae a todo hegelianismo desde ya, desde el momento en que parte de la afirmación de una cesura absoluta entre ser y pensar (sí, negando por lo tanto la vieja palabra parmenídea sobre la mismidad de pensar y ser.)” ¿Hemos pasado de negar la vieja palabra parmenídea a abrazarla en algún sentido, o a reinterpretarla como el cuarto camino de tal manera que al final infrapolítica y (otra) política comparten lo fundamental?


  4. Permanece la negacion de la identificación parmenidea en su sentido metafisico, que el hegelianismo culmina y cierra: la que llevo a la identidad de sujeto y sustancia, etc. Postular entonces una “diferencia absoluta” es un juego arriesgado, pero su funcion es establecer otro pensamiento de la relación entre pensar y ser, y nociones metonimicamente vinculadas. El Ursatz, como palabra del comienzo, va por ahí, al desplazar radicalmente el sentido ontoteologico de la identificación.


  5. En otras palabras, la identificación de sujeto y sustancia, la “espuma del infinito” en las palabras de Hegel al final de la Fenomenología, es apropiación del mundo, dominación–ahí culmina la empresa metafísica. En esa estructura, a la que Heidegger llamaba Gestell, el sujeto logra también dominarse a sí mismo en su propia cuantificación total. La última novela de Dave Eggers, The Every, insiste en ello. Y también otros textos recientes como The Age of Surveillance Capitalism de Shoshana Zuboff. Pero sabemos que ciertos fenómenos interfieren y destruyen lo que Borges llamaba la adecuación absoluta de mapa y territorio–el territorio desborda el mapa y la empresa hegeliana muestra su hilacha. Yo entiendo el Ursatz como el intento de un reset como el que acabo de hacerle a mi tele. Al postular que la conexión compleja de los tres “statements” depende de una Diké específica, y que a esa Diké puede uno acercarse en un momento de krisis “en el camino de la diosa sin nombre,” se abre otro juego. Explorar la posibilidad de ese otro juego es al fin y al cabo lo que le importa a la infrapolítica, no hay más que eso. Pero en ese “no hay más” hay mucho.


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