“Now for my basic clarifying questions. From my point of view, the problems we face today are in some ways unlike anything humanity has faced before. I completely agree that history can teach us valuable lessons, and that we should try to learn from history, but I get the impression that Heidegger is saying something more than that. Maybe I’m mistaken though, and Heidegger is really just making a simple point about the need to study history. It’s hard for me to imagine how we would be in a position to do “real” thinking by somehow remembering pre-metaphysical thinking. Wouldn’t the resulting thinking be just a synthesis of metaphysical and pre-metaphysical thinking? It’s not as if we can return to pre-metaphysics, so clearly that can’t be what Heidegger is arguing. But is it really just the simple point that we should learn from history? Is he really just saying that any ahistorical thinking is no thinking at all?” (Nicholas)
Nicholas, thank you for that question, which gives me an opportunity to repeat, recapitulate, sum up what I think is the main thrust of what I am proposing to all of you in this seminar. I don´t know that I have the time to say everything that would need to be said in answer to your question, but I will give it at least an initial try. I would ask that you reread some of the things I have been posting in this space, though, as they might clarify further.
I think you know by now that I am a philosophical renegade. I studied philosophy formally at the University of Barcelona in the second half of the 1970s, but after a while I got very fed up with the sanctimonious piety of the discipline and decided to abandon it–I had a chance to go get my PhD in Philosophy at Heidelberg, but I let it go in favor of coming to the US to get my degree in the much more humble field of Spanish and Latin American Studies, which at the time meant for me: literature in my primary language. In fact I was so fed up with university pieties that I also rejected an invitation from Yale in order to get my degree in a provincial department, U of Georgia–I figured it would be safer for me to keep away from more sanctimonious rhetoric, the one associated with supposedly elite institutions, in order to open some degree of freedom for myself, since I just wanted to be left alone to do my thing and I could not care less at the time about the structures of academic prestige (now I realize they have advantages). So I did, and I have spent most of my career doing literary and cultural studies, which is another can of worms that I won´t go into, as it would be rather irrelevant to your question. The point is, even though I had abandoned philosophy as a discipline, I was already hooked on Heidegger. He was not the only one that had hooked me–I was also hooked on Greek philosophy, and on Nietzsche in particular, and later on on Freud and Lacan, Derrida, Badiou, etc. But Heidegger kept growing on me, although I never (well, almost never) made it a point to write directly about him. I did not need to. He was the writer that taught me the most, consistently. The guy I could go to when I was bored to death with everything else in order to find a new stimulus, to recharge my often exhausted batteries if you will. Which brings me to our seminar and to your question.
Heidegger is for me, indisputably, the essential thinker of the 20th century. That does not mean I consider myself a Heideggerian or that I want to repeat Heidegger or that I have some kind of desire to paraphrase him endlessly and make a cult of him. Not at all. It simply means I realized long ago that thought, as far as I was concerned, had to measure up to what Heidegger had said–his work was there, it was extraordinarily important, and it needed to be accounted for rather than disavowed or ignored.
It is in that context that, when it came to attempt to develop thinking that I am doing in my own name, that is, not as a critic, not as an exegete, not as what one could consider an interpreter of the primary work of others, Heidegger needed to come on board. Which is the fundamental reason I am dwelling on him quite a bit in the seminar, whose secret mission is simply to push the notion of a marrano infrapolitics. As I said on Wednesday, if it came to Heidegger’s dead ears that I am making him the measuring yardstick for the development of marrano infrapolitics, even of marrano posthegemonic infrapolitics, he would turn around in his grave. Until, that is, he gave me a chance to explain myself.
In that context, I will now attempt to get to your question: no, Heidegger’s primary reference is not history, it is the Seinsfrage, the question of being. It takes time to understand what he means by that, it takes a lot more than the explanation I can give you of it here, so all I dare say now is that it is important and that you should work it into your study plans over the next 15 years. But in shorthand, so as to get to your question: Being is not something out there, being is not God or some other extraterrestrial entity. On the contrary, being is radically dependent on historical humanity, and in particular on Western humanity, since our languages are all of them absolutely centered on the notion of being. Heidegger will say: history is the history of being, everything else is historiology, and as such metaphysical. We can translate this a bit: the history of being marks the historical destiny of Western humanity, which, as dominant humanity, also involves the destiny of the planet as a whole. But the history of being is also the history of a monumental, and historically sustained, cover-up, a forgetting, he calls it, which has resulted in metaphysics as the properly (and properly violent) hegemonic articulation of the West (hence of the planet, in a derived way). Can we get beyond the cover-up, can we retrieve being through all the metaphysical mystifications? We can try. Heidegger tried. He tried first by formulating his own understanding of ex-istence as not exhausted in, in other words, as in radical excess of, hegemonic everyday alienated unfree inauthentic living, and he came to realize that he needed to understand the reasons why we are stuck where we are, in that kind of living, primarily and for the most part. He thought that for that he needed to go back to the first morning, the historical dawn of Western thinking, namely, the early Greek thinkers and poets. The radical investigation of what he thought he could deem both original and derivative in the Greek world of thought, and subsequently in the history that developed though Rome, through Neo-Testamentary religion, through the curia and the Holy Roman Empire, through the history of the Western nation states, through the history of technology, through the history of revolutions and secularizations, through nihilism, etc., is what makes him the essential thinker of the 20th century. The point was never to say: “hey, fellows, I have succeeded in demonstrating that there is a strange continuity in history that explains the devastation of the world we see today, our political impasses, the wasteland that is everyday life for a vast majority of human beings, the misery, the cracks and inconsistencies of capitalism, etc., starting with the Greeks.” The point was rather, from the beginning, I would say, to say: “hey, fellows, if we are going to have a future, we need to interrupt the inertia of that Western history, to step out of it, and to move towards an other beginning of thinking. But–that other beginning of thinking is only that, a beginning, preparatory, nothing else. I have not decided anything: I do not have a philosophy. I only ever want to clear the way to a possible future.”
His thesis was: the destruction of metaphysics, through the retrieval of a thinking of being, is a necessary condition for the future of thinking, which is also the future of humanity.
In my opinion, regarding the problems you mention in the first lines of the paragraph above, Heidegger is the most clear-sighted and useful thinker both at the level of diagnosis and at the level of recommending how to work on a path out of them. But I do grant that it takes time to figure this out–if only because his complete works exceed one hundred volumes.
Modestly, I am trying to develop the idea of a marrano Heideggerianism–after Heidegger, as Rafael so brilliantly put it in his presentation this week. The marrano has good personal and historical reasons to abhor metaphysics. So the marrano–what I am trying to present as the historical and typological figure of the marrano, which I am calling the marrano register–is for me the existential position (perhaps only one of them, although I cannot think of any other, frankly) that is attuned to the (Heideggerian) task of finding a path beyond or below history, towards a reformulated, certainly renegade, posthegemonic understanding of free existence.
I call that infrapolitics. Let me now add that without infrapolitics there will never be a politics worthy of the name. We do not have it now, and the non-Heideggerians that I know of have been singularly inept at proposing it.
Well, as I said, this is only a beginning. I hope it helps as such.