Metaphysics and its transcendence; Heidegger.

Scene 1: Metaphysics

Before sketching out the heideggerian project, we will now give a very general view of an outline of what metaphysics is. Metaphysics is often considered as the opposite of physics, which is the study of nature. Thus it is defined as either the science of the realities that are not subject to the senses, of immaterial and invisible beings (soul, God), or as the knowledge of what those things really are, in contrast to their appearances. In either case, metaphysics has to do with what's beyond nature, or if you prefer, beyond the world as it is given us to examine, as the sciences conceive it and study it -- that is, with the foundations of what exists. An example of a metaphysical question: what is being? and in the classic form: is there something to it, rather than nothing? Metaphysics, a way of questioning being in itself, as "being," often proves to be the fundamental and supreme knowledge, for this very reason.

This pretense has, however, been rejected by many thinkers as a kind of speculation, an escape from reality. Metaphysics is but a chimera in their eyes, a bunch of questions spinning rapidly around verbiage and tangents, in which religion has always been able to find a few good buyers.

Scene 2: The metaphysical becoming of the world; Heidegger

Though for Marx history is about the development of class struggles, and for Nietzsche the growing and flowering rise of nihilism, it is for Heidegger about the reappropriation of a fundamental forgetting, running through western thought all the way back to Plato -- the forgetting of being.

According to a pattern that one can find to be at work in both hegelian and religious thinking (the kabbala), history has gone through three successive phases: primordial unity, separation, and the conscious re-conquest of that lost unity.

The primordial unity, for Heidegger, covers the period of the Greek pre-socratic thinkers (Heraclitus, Parmenides...). A kind of paradise lost, a golden age of the world, this was the moment when for the first time man, however unconsciously, lived out his being, as fully a part of it.

Platonic thinking, by trying to grasp the truth of each object presented to man, tears apart this primordial unity (the christians would here say that Adam had bitten the apple). We then enter into the period of separation, a historical phase dominating western thought until Heidegger.

The conscious re-conquest of that lost unity with being (similar to Tiqoun - discussed in the next few chapters) is now possible, according to the latter. How and why is what we're going to be working on now, by delving into a line of thought that is simultaneously a critique of what western metaphysics has been all about since Plato, and a radical deepening thereof.

In order to understand the historical possibilities involved in this re-conquest, one must on the one hand go back to the period of forgetting, and envision, on the other, the fundamental questions that techno-scientific power poses in our times. By characterizing all western thought as the forgetting of being, Heidegger does not however imply that there was no proper metaphysical thought before him. Certainly, philosophy still has a metaphysical dimension to the extent that it has forced itself to think about being, but it has never done so by really elevating it to the status of a dignified question; in other words, it has not examined its problems in terms of its meaning and truth. More precisely speaking, the question of Being has always been subordinate to "being-theres".*** An "being-there" is any particular being, for example a spyglass, a buffalo, or a man, all of which have in common the fact that they EXIST, that they ARE. For Aristotle, what unites the spyglass and the buffalo (their being) is action and force. If the same question were asked of Schopenhauer, he would say that the "being" of man, a table, and a stone, is their will to live; they all have in common the fact that they want to live. In both cases, it is clear that to be referred to as a "being" depends on that being-there, or symmetrically, that the being-there is only understandable from the perspective of its being. Here we find the primary reproach directed at philosophy by Heidegger: it has only ever thought about "being" from the perspective of and in light of "being-theres," or, inversely, it has only ever represented being-theres (spyglass, buffalo, man) in light of what they are, how they are, and has forgotten to question the essential origin of these "being-theres."

Thus western metaphysics remains in the end tied to scientific knowledge, which tries to see everything in its truth whereas being has to be thought about as such, in its transcendence, pure and simple. It remains simple physics (based on the natural sciences), which consists only of exact representations and has made "being" the most empty and general of concepts. Consider a jug, for example, says Heidegger, using an example from Descartes. Physically, it shows itself to be a receptacle, having a bottom, an inner surface, and a handle. For scientific representation, which claims to grasp things faster and better than all other experience, the jug is the product of a potter's labor, and is full of air inside. And that's all there is to it, besides perhaps getting into measurements or analyzing the material its made of and its form. But it is a property of the empty space within that jug that it can contain what is poured into it, to be both gift and offering. The connection between the earth, the sky, the gods, and the mortals are condensed into it: "The spring remains in the water that is offered i. In that spring, the rock it springs from, and in the rock, all the heavy lethargy of the earth, which receives the rain and dew ..." (Essays and Conferences). Things thus have a multitude of meanings, and gather together within themselves a number of natural and social relationships, and have a mythical sheen about them, a symbolic value which cannot be reduced to use value or to the representation of the thing in all its objectivity. Heidegger seeks out all the repressed meanings of familiar things, meanings repressed by the dominant representations of techno-scientific knowledge, meanings that are nevertheless retained in myth in a latent and diluted form. The example of the jug also shows, for Heidegger, the need for a radical reversal of the mode of man's presence in the world. Man must cease to consider himself as thinking up and producing the world out of himself in his will to power, and instead admit that it is to be seen, rather, from the perspective of its being-there. "Being" unveils and opens itself up to man, if man is able to understand it by means of language. Transcending metaphysics, for Heidegger, is thus to return consciously to the ever retreating origins, to return to a fundamental mode of examination, which the questioning of being-there and its truth cannot permit.

This transcendence of all the old metaphysics does not however arise from a simple human decision. As the members of Tiqqun have said, perfectly in line with Heidegger, 'we are on the historical threshold of a journey which will allow the realization of that transcendence.' The old metaphysics, in fact, now has exhausted all its possibilities in the absolute domination of the world by technology. And thus we see how technology, while realizing metaphysics, also puts an end to it.

For Heidegger, technology is in essence not just another phenomenon among all the other phenomena of modernity. The heart of it can only be grasped by attaching it to all the history of western metaphysics which is at its root. Thus, for example, it is not just a purely instrumental activity, as Hegel conceived of it, nor, as Marx saw it, a way of extracting surplus value in the capitalist world. No, it is far more: behind its supposed objective neutrality, it materializes the mode of representation proper to western metaphysics in the domination of nature and of people. Looking at it in terms of the mode of disclosure proper to it, it is a true "provocation" by means of which nature has been given formal notice to provide accumulable resources and energies solely to meet the needs of humanity. From this productivist perspective, nature is reduced to a pure object of consumption, and objects appear, relative to humanity, as the mere fund or stock of humanity's power; so much so that all objects (natural objects, technology, machines...) become but the symbol of human power and immediately echo it. Nature is thus seen as in line with human plans, and fully compassed by them. In the old days, says Heidegger, the old wooden bridge over the Rhine became part of nature by uniting the two banks of the river; today, the river becomes part of the construction of nuclear power plants.

To what extent have we now gotten to the end of this process? Subject to absolute domination by man by means of technology, nature now turns against him, leaving devastation and death all around. Man, according to Heidegger, cannot escape the circle of this domination. Considered in turn as a source of power (labor power), man can be swallowed up as a subject: "Man himself becomes human material, to be used so as to meet pre-established aims." Man can thus grasp the hidden essence of technology, and at the same time the way he is fundamentally a part of "being," when confronted with this extreme danger, when all his firm foundations are shaken. More precisely, man has the possibility of understanding that technology participates in a metaphysical interpretation of the world which is none other than the way of thinking proper to the whole western tradition, which today is exhausting its last possibilities: by means of the domination of techno-science, "being" is showing nature to man as an "ensemble of calculable forces." So modern technology puts man in a convergence point where man could just as easily go on giving himself over entirely to the domination-frenzy or become aware of the role he plays in the revealing of "being." And that role contains both the greatest of dangers and the possibility that something that could save us all is on the horizon. But that can't happen without us ceasing to be fascinated by technology and understanding it instead as a particular kind of disclosure, giving us a sign that points to something else. Our times thus comprise the critical point where from out of the greatest decadence emerges the possibility that we just might reclaim it all. Thus, before we look at how they're doing it, we can conclude that the members of Tiqqun are taking up that critical point again as such, and then radicalizing it from a pseudo-political perspective.

Above all, it's not just a kind of nostalgia for the rural world and the tall-trees of its Black Forests that are to be found in Heidegger, but also a certain consciousness, common to all German culture at the time, including his adversaries -- Bloch, Adorno, and the Frankfurt School -- that a civilization founded on the exploitation of nature and man, where technology is at the service of manipulative Power, could not be tolerated much longer. Whereas for Marx man's liberation from the forces that dominate him was to come from social and political practice, for Heidegger it can only take place on the metaphysical plane. In other words, the world of technology cannot be a pointing out of something different unless humanity itself goes through the experience of nothingness, and only through that experience. Thus he could say that if men are lost in the vertigo of their own domination, it is only in order that they tear themselves apart, destroy themselves, and fall into the "nullity of Nothingness." This is a necessary step for man to take before he can be reconciled with "being" as part of a "re-memorative thinking" of a philosophical/poetic nature.

The metaphysical experience of nothingness as an unavoidable preliminary to a full and reconciled life, is part of all the articles in the magazine. This experience is not simply part of a particular viewpoint on heideggerian thought, as we will see below, but is also found in of the most extreme doctrines in the Kabbala and in the ideas the Russian nihilists.

Scene 3: Critical Metaphysics

"Metaphysics cannot be defeated like an opinion can... Man, having become the rational animal, which today means the living being that works, can now only wander through the deserts of a devastated earth. And this might be a sign that metaphysics is manifesting itself to us directly from itself, and that the transcendence of metaphysics takes place as an acceptance of 'being.' Because work (see Ernst J√ľnger) today has risen to the metaphysical level as the unconditional objectification of all present things deploying their being in the will to will. If this is so, we must not think that we are outside of metaphysics simply because we foresee its end. Because metaphysics, even if transcended, does not disappear. It comes back in another form and retains its supremacy, like the distinction, still in force, that differentiates "being-there" from "being."

M. Heidegger, Essays and Conferences.

Though it has tried, Tiqqun's critique has not left the terrain of philosophy. Far from examining general theoretical bases, all the questions it poses arise from a particular kind of thought, Heideggerian thought. Furthermore, it has made Heidegger's message that "no change occurs without an escort first pointing the way" into its common currency, and decided to make itself the "escort" designated to carry out that mission. This dependence on Heidegger is the reason why Tiqqun makes no attempt to critique him, although they say he's "shit": "Critical Metaphysics is a general injunction to determine oneself based on the metaphysical character of the world; it comprises ... in the words of that old piece of shit Heidegger, "the Appropriation of metaphysics, the Appropriation of the forgetting of Being," Tiqqun. None of the members of the magazine have asked themselves what the connection was between Heidegger's philosophy / its ulterior development and the world into which his thought is deployed. All their critique is limited to his critique, the critique of western metaphysics. "Progress," when it comes to Heidegger, consists simply in its being filled with the most diverse of determinations and in the affirmation of its transcendence through the action of human beings. To do this, the philosophical idea to be fulfilled must first be defined, and the logic of its fulfillment inscribed into the very heart of history itself, in a purely hegelian style.

What would such a tour de force consist of? It's a question, first of all, of subordinating all the supposedly dominant interpretations to western metaphysics. From science to technology, from economics to politics, all the dominant relationships are proclaimed as metaphysical. Having put everything under the blade of their critique, and proclaimed that each and every thing is metaphysical, the members of Tiqqun marvel at their discovery: that metaphysics is not just everywhere, it is also the Achilles heel of domination. It becomes, in a way, an interpretation that gives its own form to societies, and has dominated western history over the course of five centuries through the development of its successive determinations. So, in the end it shows itself as the principle behind an explanation of what society's becoming. Secondly, in order to mask the history of "being" under its purely speculative dimension, its movement is incarnated in different historical periods, the dialectical process of which ensures that metaphysics will return to itself, and be reclaimed. Like it does according to Heidegger, the whole of the movement of history remains subordinate to the history of "being" which it draws its principles from. The transcendence of metaphysics through its realization is the development by which all reality must be ruled. Social and political history thus become the incarnation of a formal, mechanical movement, the purely logical formula of a dialectical movement whose framework is given as follows in Tiqqun magazine:

1. Since the world is always participating in the metaphysical interpretation that comprises it, the truth of commodity society shows itself, in spite of all appearances, in its metaphysical essence, rather than in its economic or technical essence: "There's no commodity world, there's just a commodity perspective on the world." (Tiqqun) More precisely, the essence of commodity domination is the negation of metaphysics, or further, a metaphysics of negation. The spectacle, which is domination's present form, is the final figure of western metaphysics, and in two ways. On the one hand, in the spectacle, domination extends over all the spheres of meaning, and in particular to everything that goes beyond strict material production. On the other, what commodity society was in its essence (either one specific metaphysics or the negation of all metaphysics) finally shows itself visibly: "in the spectacle, the metaphysical character of what exists is seen as a central and obvious fact: in it, the world has visibly become a particular metaphysics." (Tiqqun)

2. Certainly, the realization of commodity society is its negation at the same time: it ruins its own foundations in its development. As a metaphysics of negation, society realizes metaphysics: "Commodity metaphysics is the metaphysics that denies all metaphysics and above all denies that it itself is a certain metaphysics." (Tiqqun). By the extension of a kind of desertification over the totality of what exists, it allows for the original metaphysical experience (the experience of nothingness), which allows for the recognition of the forgetting of "being." The society that has tried to liquidate metaphysics therefore has instead realized metaphysics: it shows itself in all its truth as a kind of critical metaphysics.

3. The commodity world carries its negation within itself; in unconscious form this is the Bloom figure, and in conscious form it is the figure of critical metaphysics (which represents the members of Tiqqun). Conscious and unconscious negation together comprise the Imaginary Party, which is the political expression of negativity in present society. Bloom, as the dominant face of alienation, is also the general face of the spectacle. Bloom is what has replaced the Worker; he is the figure of non-belonging par excellence. Within the spectacle, his metaphysical dimensions rise before him in alienated form. Dispossessed of everything, Bloom carries within himself the negation of commodity society: by the absolute experience of his alienation, he becomes capable of reclaiming his metaphysical essence, and thus, suppress himself as Bloom. The Imaginary Party is the antagonistic character that commodity society has produced; it must first show itself in a latent manner through partial, momentary, and subversive conflicts before uniting as such and totally abolishing itself in the realization of its task.

Prisoners of the heideggerian pattern - of whom G. Scholem remarked that he had a something of the "Hyper-German Kabbalist" about him -- it is not surprising that the members of Tiqqun find in the Jewish millenarian movements not only a spiritual and sectarian correspondence of sorts, but also an apparent solution to the difficulties found in politicizing metaphysics. There, throughout history, metaphysical revolt, religious and political revolt, are all effectively unified in acts.

changed April 27, 2010