Teleography and Tendencies: Part 2 History and Anastasis
4 April 2022
Photograph Brown Hawk Owl, Winter Night, Divya Dwivedi, 2021; Image credit: received.
Theories of history often emphasise wars as events that are revelatory of the historic sense. This tendency is continuous with the ancient religious practices of divination such as auguries, portents, and revelations, and later theological inventions including theodicy. A conception of history which is neither theological nor metaphysical is necessary to situate human responsibility and reason outside of the excuses of chance and destiny. Such a conception of history shows that there is something more than history—anastasis.
To deconstruct means to take apart, to disassemble, to loosen the assembled structure in order to give some play to the possibility from which it emerged.
— Jean-Luc Nancy, Dis-enclosure
History is a rather recent concept as it did not have objectivity until Marx posited a secular and scientific field for it. In our modern experience history awaits us with judgments and ends; but these ends and judgments have already had us. When we say “history is taking place” it is often in the sense of “It has got me”. History is analogous to theology in this usage, that is, in its rigour, history is the revelation of the ratio between the ends (and judgments) of man, and our ignorance of these very ends. Is another sense to history possible? Is it held in the sense of genealogy in Nietzsche; or of family resemblances among things and events in Wittgenstein; or in Foucault’s historiography of that ratio between known and unknown ends, which he called the forms of power? We may find that the religious sense is not absent in many of the accustomed models of history. There is something more than history.
It is easier to conceive the history of an object in a domain than the history of man. (1) The theory of the domain is that which determines all the possible relations and terms in it, and it is the discourse of reasons. A domain is an objective field when there is a theory of the domain. The objective field is that from which an object cannot depart through all its transformations; through all the transformations according to the determinations of the field laws it returns every time to the field, unless it comes to be the object of another field. The field, as it is used in most of the mathematical and physical sciences, is concerned with the field laws according to which an objective domain is secured. The field laws specify the transformations permissible for objects within that field. (2) However, the field laws are not the theory of the domain, for the former gives no reasons. Therefore, the reasons of a field are not immanent to it. Once we leave the terrain of mathematics and logic field is a complex concept; fields interact, the objects of fields leak into other fields, and objects may be members of several fields at the same time. Take the example of the word “truth” which is both metaphysical and juridical, while it is also member of the field of shooting with guns through analogy, where a gun that “shoots true” is precise. Objects retain homological and analogical powers through which they are at the same time more than what they are; in other words, no thing is ever what it is.
The variations of an object in a field are determined by the field laws, but this does not imply that we possess the knowledge of the entelechia of the object by possessing the field laws. Instead, as with mathematics, a proof, by means of analogy, can be called the chronicle of the object. But when the conception of the field itself changes “history is made”; for example, Alan Turing finding the singular concept of mathematics in the universal machine. The changes at the level of the object which is determined by the field and the changes in the conceptions of the field—often philosophical—are not the same. The changes in the latter can reveal a certain entelechia. We should know that identity and the end for which something is held to be the same are secured through functional isolations. For example, restrictions on the laws of logic permit the creation of distinct logical fields, and in turn, a suitable logical field can be mechanised to serve the end of a computing machine. Functionally isolating the use of motor vehicles through civil laws allows a field of traffic to come to be.
However, the same motorcar which flows in the field of traffic has the homological power to come together with a plough and be a tractor in an agricultural field; or to become weaponised on the streets. These latter uses reveal new possibilities and hence they will enter as significant moments in the history of traffic. In the same way that one hesitates to call the chronicle of the movement of traffic its history, the transformations of an object in a field are not ‘historical’, unless the objectivity itself were to undergo transformation. When the field itself and the theory of its objectivity undergoes changes we also speak of theoretical or scientific revolutions; on such occasions, history is the experience of the prodigious. In events in which the knowledge of possibilities and impossibilities of a field are revealed the field itself changes.
The emergence of history may appear to be that which is irregular or that for which rules cannot be given—the prodigious. However, the surfacing of the impossible into the possible remains within the essential, which is after all the knowledge of the reasons for the ratio between the possible and the impossible.
When the field itself undergoes transformation we are confronted by its essence. The ratios between what is possible and impossible, what is necessary and contingent, regular and irregular, and what some x is and what that x is not, according to the determination of ends are given by essence: Essence is the ratio of the kinds of actualities, regularities, modalities and the reasons for the specific ratios. Then, essence is where we give reasons and bear responsibilities for the ratios. The field laws are the essential in that they belong to the essence, but they do not coincide with the essence; rather, essences exceed the comprehension of fields, because the former holds the knowledge of the polynomial powers of the latter. Essence relates a field to another. The field reveals what some X can do as it is being chronicled in its course in the field, or proven to do some particular action. That is, the knowledge of the possibilities requires the activity of carrying out transformations. For this reason, the field contains unrealised knowledge.
Essence is not a list of laws and rules. It is given through the architectonic which is involved in the construction of unrealised knowledge through a rigour which is distinct from the rule governed region of fields; in essential knowledge intuitions and formality are not in a hierarchical relation. When the very conception of a field or a system of objectivity undergoes transformations what had been understood as the impossible from the given knowledge of the field is realised. Therefore, we can think of history as the movement from the possible to the impossible. From the point of view of the field, as Althusser would say, “history emerges as the dorsal unconscious constitution” (3) of something in the field, or as the irregular; the field under consideration is itself transformed by this knowledge, which may or may not entail changes in the field laws. The emergence of history may appear to be that which is irregular or that for which rules cannot be given—the prodigious. However, the surfacing of the impossible into the possible remains within the essential, which is after all the knowledge of the reasons for the ratio between the possible and the impossible. Here, the possession of essential knowledge has a relation to the games of auguries and portends. The one who is in the keeping of the essential is able to foretell the impossible. It has a relation to an ordinary experience of which we often speak in terms of “having intuitions” about a field through sufficient immersion in it. But essential knowledge is more than that.
Fields do not exist in isolation; in fact, fields exist in componential relation with other fields and a field may itself be made up of components; for example, the very concept of electro-magnetic field involves two components. Once a field is identified—social, physical, biological, political, religious—we can enquire into the components which make up such a field and the componential relations it has with other fields. These components, in the case of a social field, may be the institutions of a society such as the field of the schools and of the clinics, the mode in which food is made available, the relation with other societies with which it conducts regular exchanges and so on. The components have regularity and they are themselves governed by componential laws; the regularities of the components correspond to componential laws. The rules of conduct, the hours, the uniforms vary significantly between the school and the disco. That is, the laws which determine the regularities of office hours and school hours are component laws in something else which comprehends them—the comprehending law.
These comprehensions manifest in different levels. For example, the pressures on the traffic systems is where the componential laws of offices and schools meet. In accordance with the pressures the traffic system regulates the components of schools and offices. From the point of view of the law which comprehends the system of components, component laws are variable and exchangeable according to the determination of the essence; when we are thinking of comprehending law we are working with the architectonic of the essences. From the point of view of the law which comprehends the componential laws and their regularities everything manifests in the ratio of possible and impossible, necessary and dispensable, identical (functionally isolated) and non-identifiable in accordance with reasons.
At this level of components we are concerned with the comprehending law of the the componential laws. While staying with the example of traffic and school hours, we have seen that during the pandemic, what we experienced until then as the impossible became possible. Schools and offices were held at home and the streets looked abandoned. This transition from one order of regularity towards another was experienced as history. For this reason, there is nothing substantial in the components. However, the experience of some X changing into something else or its having a history is experienced as substantial difference.
When it comes to the “history of man”—which includes conceptions of history with or without the subject—the level at which we contend with the knowledge of the comprehending law has been metaphysical, theodical and theological so far; and, a racialised god insists in our conceptions of history.
The comprehending law is never the law of a component. If that were the case, then the resolutions of components which are external to each other; the endurance of a system through the accommodation of ranges for its regularities; the teleograph which guides the elections and selections of necessary and dispensable components; and the exchanges between possibilities and impossibilities would require yet another comprehending component, ad infinitum—something like the third man argument. Now, in those cases where the component is mistaken to be a comprehending law the system would run into stasis as its essence from that moment onwards would be identified with a componential law. This is the story of most authoritarianisms, as well as with the case of stasis in Ancient Greek state. Stasis is analogous to sickness in organisms where an organ which is functionally inadequate draws the functions of all the other organs towards itself. An extreme example is the criticalised state of bleeding out, where the heart pumps faster to accommodate for the loss blood pressure, and effectively drains the organism of blood.
Even if we were to entertain this fantasy of there being a comprehending component as an Idea in development, without it being the pre-positioning of the End before an abstract subject form, it will still be a component in a system in stasis. That is, the movement of immanent determination, in which some component is posited as the comprehending being, such as the subject, only to be raised up to the greater component of the next field as its moment, is the dream of a prolonged stasis nearing a telos where a peculiar eternity may await—Eternity understood as pleasant placid stasis. In such a fantasy, the schema of ends of a particular group, or a particular interest, is driven forward as the universal interest or the absolute disinterest. Such conceptions of history abound from Kant to Habermas—a singular component in a system without comprehending laws determining all the novelties as its own moment, discarding as dirt all those novelties which may not fit its own ends. Such pursuits of understanding history will never come to know of the dance of exchanges between essences themselves. But such models are not harmless; mistaking this fact—that the comprehending law is not a component—creates models like that of “friend and enemy” in politics and of the fundamental particle in physics.
The models of history relying on the distinction between either two agents of history (friend/enemy, east/west, master/slave), or the two agents as one engine (in analogy with the spring engine), make such distinctions on the basis of the superstition of logical identity and on the fiction of a limited domain of shared interest. Once the superstition of identity—that identity is given without an identity function which functionally isolates the ranges and kinds of homologies of a thing into an identity— is entertained by groups of men, it is easy in politics to set up irresolvable differences, which enshrouds the ends of politics that are concerned with freedom. In other words, isostheneia (4) is the sepulchre of politics.
Isostheneia and stasis should be distinguished from another species of societies which do not experience history in the sense which we had been discussing. We often speak of these societies through their chronicles; “Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians” by Pierre Clastres (5) shows the difference between these societies and history. These are societies where nothing happens, or nothing happens which breaks their objective field; in other words, the appearance of an essence which has fully resolved ratios. In these societies, the ideal societies for Gandhi, novelties are shunned. Instead, each year repeats the previous year and each life time repeats the life times of the ancestors. The members of these societies observe the social customs ceremonially in that the society itself is a ceremonial repetition. The principle which guides the ceremonial society can be called calypsology. Calypsology is concerned with the societies for which the principle of their organisation is conserved and reproduced as their goal; or, calypsology is concerned with cases in which means and ends are one and the same.The placid eternity of theologised history resembles ceremonial societies, except with modern conveniences. Ceremonial societies have played a significant role in philosophy. When Heidegger wrote longingly about the regularity of the life of the forester of an old stable epoch who “measures the felled timber and to all appearances walks the same forest path in the same way as did his grandfather” he was setting up a contrast between the decadence of the technical age and the age of ‘truths’. (6) Clastres found that ceremonial societies are fragile when novelties enter them; in South American societies he observed that the introduction of steel axe was sufficient to destroy them.
In the Heideggerian teleography which created the equation between the history of metaphysics and the history of the ‘the west’ the classical law of identity and the racialised identity of a ‘Greco-Arian’ interest hides. As with any teleograph, either decline or progress may manifest in history according to invested telos. For Heidegger, it is the obvious untenability of a ‘Greco-Arian’ interest in philosophy which transfers a sense of decline to the history of metaphysics.
Each of the sciences has different kinds of formality guiding its experiences of history because the sciences are not equal to one another, even in analogy, despite the many reductionisms, including the Althusserian kind. (7) The comprehending law of biology today involves politics, the state, the corporations, and technological systems of reckoning. On the other hand, mathematics remains relatively autonomous, except with respect to the state. The objectivities of the sciences are not equal; that is, the fields within which objects are found and their variations are discovered differs significantly between the sciences, and this remains the case despite the attempts at reductionism. For example, the language of states and phase transition from physics cannot be applied to biology. If there is a biological field it is without ceteris paribus and in it interests of the individual organisms (not merely the species which can be conceived mechanically) bind the telos. In physics one can determine the ratios through which components laws are comprehended; a star is the comprehension of two tendencies, the explosive tendency of nuclear fusion and the implosive tendency of gravitation. In biology these ratios vary according to, what can be loosely termed, milieu, which is also comprehended. For this reason the history of the organism is the history of the inventions of novelties according to the interests of the living (to live in this sense is to deploy the interest in living and “living better” in the sense of Whitehead) under consideration, of milieus and of other living things. (8)
When it comes to the “history of man”—which includes conceptions of history with or without the subject—the level at which we contend with the knowledge of the comprehending law has been metaphysical, theodical and theological so far; and, a racialised god insists in our conceptions of history. Implicit in the notion of history is the sense that there is meaning invested in man. The divine conjuncture of this meaning of man with the meaning of nature are found to be revealed in the, mostly racialised, notion of “history”. In the ancient world the relation between the destiny of man and the signals of man’s destiny in nature were read by the augur. The modern conception of history retains this older sense; history is taken to be the development of a certain algorithm, of the meaning of which we possess an incomplete revelation; and, hence an incompetent interpretation of the ends of man in a ratio with the judgment of man is read in the auguries of war (9) where the worst of man and the best of man are said to be revealed.
Of late, haruspices have displaced philosophers of politics. Instead, the only thing revealed by wars is this—there is no such thing as man apart from the essences in which this being, man, is found, and wars reduce the polynomial powers of these essences to something which is unliveable. If wars contained the “truth” of man wars would have been the norm. (10) The modern experience of history proceeds by averting its gaze from god, who still watches over history, and then studies man as the object of history. If man is the object of history then man is also the scientist of history. The relation between the object and the science cannot be located in man. For this reason Heidegger’s history of Being located the theory of history in something which cannot manifest in history—Being does not have an objective field. Since Heidegger, the philosophically interesting and important theories of history study events and man from the point of view of that which cannot manifest in history. The older sense of augury and the special “thinking” as the augur continues through Heidegger.
The inauguration (the word and the concept comes from the ancient augur) of Being is the very moment at which the principle of the giving of Being is withdrawn; which is analogous to the secrecies around the augural law in the ancient world of which we know little, except that it existed. History, in the conception of Heideggerianism, is reading the augury of the withdrawal of the principle according to which history is revealed. In Heidegger the withdrawal of the principle also constituted a special epoch in which the fact of the withdrawal no longer was in the essential considerations—the forgetting of forgetting—which in turn inaugurated the experience of history as decline. It is less obvious that the sense of history in Heidegger is inversely proportional to the Hegelian history. (11) In the Heideggerian essence of the history of Being a functional isolation, which makes ontology itself possible, is hidden—the law of identity. (12)
As we found earlier, identities are constituted through functional isolations, and identity itself requires an identity function. That is, an identity initiates that system which conserves this very identity. Identity function implies the relation between distinct variations and domains through which identities are obtained, such as the identity function of the organism understood through homeostasis. Such an understanding requires us to re-think the words “object” and “things”. (13) The original error is in mistaking identity functions for given identities. For this reason Jean-Luc Nancy writes, “An identity is an act or a tension whose effects can be recognised but whose nature cannot be isolated like a chemical element”, (14) because it is only the effect of the functional isolations. In this sense, often an objective field involves the active construction of rules through which something is made to be identical with itself through transformations. In the Heideggerian teleography which created the equation between the history of metaphysics and the history of the ‘the west’ the classical law of identity and the racialised identity of a ‘Greco-Arian’ interest hides. As with any teleograph, either decline or progress may manifest in history according to invested telos. For Heidegger, it is the obvious untenability of a ‘Greco-Arian’ interest in philosophy which transfers a sense of decline to the history of metaphysics.
There is something like identity—the same—which is observed to be present without functional isolations. Let’s call it tendencies. The term “tendencies” can be referred to Whitehead, Bergson and Althusser. But here we should look at it anew. There are tendencies, things and experiences which persist: The tendency in thought to seek the indivisible and then find it in numbers and in nature, from the ancient atomists to the search for fundamental particles is well known; the tendency, of pointed piercing artefacts in the history of manmade objects, to appear under newer conditions; (15) and the tendency of seeking general solutions to the problems with wide ranges. Not all tendencies persist, in other words develop; today, the tendency to read, which was prolonged over several thousands of years, is disappearing. (16)
Anomia is harrowing and it creates monstrous transient forms. Hesiod writes about the anomia in the conjunction of those components which are without a comprehending law; Typhaon is the monster or anomon which is half snake and half man. Sophocles describes the anomon as beings with doubled laws which are without something comprehending them, such as the Centaurs. Societies themselves enter into anomia when they are either in stasis or when they are criticalised, as with the example of the plague of Athens for Thucydides who recorded the anomia of Athens.
We found that “augur” held the homological power of historical intuition which is given to those who are in the domain of essential knowledge. Those who keep within essential knowledge are able to portend the impossibles. Now, etymologies of these terms—augur and portend—have different roots. However, in their root meaning they speak of the same—to increase, to stretch, to extend, to prolong, to increase power. The ordinary conception of a tendency is to think of something as persisting as it is, or in its own-being—conatus. But we have already found that there is no such own-being. Instead, things are always tending to be something else, which is the very meaning of tendency—to prolong and to increase into some other thing. Tendency means to insist on being something more than itself and to be elsewhere; just as the letters from Lebanon have traveled into the codes of computing machines. The atoms of Lucretius are not the same as the atom of the atomic model. Then, a tendency indicates a certain homological power—the power to be the matter for some other—which persists. For this reason, tendencies carry over from one revolution to the next. Foucault would demonstrate that essential tendencies—such as statements for him—appear as the irregular. These tendencies—such as the distribution of keys on a keyboard—are given without principles of their giving and what comes through these tendencies has regularities, which can also be regulated. For example, what is typed out is generated and captured by principles of regularities of different fields such as grammar, obscenity laws, conventions of truth telling.
We found that essence does not give us directives and orders to obey. The weight of essential knowledge—which insists without closure—is akin to the experience of piety, which is not endurable. However, as with all that is living we too bear the ends which, for Whitehead, include to live, to live well, and to live better. That is, living is a tendency in enhancing the living through novelties. The architectonic through which we construct a map of ends which alone can allow us to negotiate the ratios held in essence, while keeping within essential knowledge, is teleography. The essential is then functionally isolated and invested in politics through teleography. Teleography was often held as something divine—god gave the ends or showed the ‘fas’—until Marx, who made this explicit. In his analysis he found the teleography of capital. In his politics Marx founded the teleography of communism. Teleography is therefore opposed to auguries. In the latter, ends are found for which one bears no responsibility while in the latter the ends have to be accompanied by reason, and hence responsibility, in the act of positing them. After Marx, it is morally impossible to write history without also examining the teleograph of that history. Once a teleograph is conceived, it allows for anticipations; or, it constitutes an anticipatory system according to which tolerable and the intolerable events are viewed from a distance. The anticipation of the basis of an interest in this sense is also the grasping of what is distant. The suppression of this fact, or the pretence to pure disinterest, is the evil of historiography.
History itself comes to limits as the essence according to which teleographs are drawn is exhausted. We experience the ends of the history of a certain essence as an era in which nothing happens, where events are incapable of delivering novelties. This can be either due to stasis or due to anomia, or, as it is often the case, both at the same time. Both anomia and stasis were recorded and distinguished in the ancient world. Anomia is absence of a comprehending law among the components. When the components of a system come to stasis they either lose their relation with one another or their polynomia come to be restricted when they are forced to serve some one component which attempts to be the comprehending component. However, some of the components of system may either perform functions together or enter into relations with functions which are outside the domain of the essence of the system. For example, the sudden appearance of steel axe in societies of the tribal form creates relations of anomia between all the other aspects of these societies and the axe. Anomia is harrowing and it creates monstrous transient forms. Hesiod writes about the anomia in the conjunction of those components which are without a comprehending law; Typhaon is the monster or anomon which is half snake and half man. Sophocles describes the anomon as beings with doubled laws which are without something comprehending them, such as the Centaurs. Societies themselves enter into anomia when they are either in stasis or when they are criticalised, as with the example of the plague of Athens for Thucydides who recorded the anomia of Athens. Anomia in itself does not reveal much, however the relation a philosopher invents between anomia and the ends of politics reveals the metaphysical investment in teleography; or, their reciprocal dependence, as we found with Heidegger. For Plato, anomia was visible in places in where one would not normally expect it. In his world everyone agrees that to be lawful and to be just are one and the same. In other words, the anomoi are the unjust. Further, in contemporary society Plato observed a general agreement on what is lawful. However, it is the distance these societies had from ceremonial societies which troubled Plato; after all, the laws were always changing and hence the revelation of justice was confused in history. Anomia was still not evil, but the effect of privation of knowledge which presented a confused world.
Anomia precedes as the necessary condition before stasis is overcome by anastasis and through which the new comprehending law is received by that which had been the anomon. What comes over stasis is anastasis, it is without essence, and therefore we rarely record it in history. (17) Anastasis escapes history. Anastasis belongs to philosophy. It is this relation between philosophy and history that is needed today. Historiography escapes philosophy due to the latter’s concern with essences which deprives the philosopher of the drawing power of teleography. On the other hand anomia and the exchange between comprehending laws, that is, the overcoming of stasis, is the domain of philosophy alone. Without these two activities—historiography and philosophy—coming together in a conduct of showing each other and sharing with one another the visions of their respective domains, we are destined to remain without senses in these hours of stasis.
1. The confused use of “history” interchangeably in the history of object and the history of man is a present day convenience, which allows such usage to escape the questions of rigour and responsibility.
2. For example, the electromagnetic field determines the actions at a distance of objects according to velocities of particles and their effects on other particles; and, the algebraic field determines objects according to the field laws of algebra. There are many senses to the field including the more analogous uses in philosophy, as in Sartre and Foucault. The etymology of the term “field” is not of much help: It carries a relation to the “palm” and is homologous with respect to the words indicating even ground, the unconcealed, earth, and flattened.
3. Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-87. (F. M. Corpet, Ed., & G. M. Goshgarian, Trans.) London: Verso, 2006, P 185.
4. It is possible show the relation between isostheneia and the Kantian dialectic, following which other calamitous developments began in the philosophical understanding of politics.
5. Pierre Clastres, Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians, Zone Books, 2000.
6. See Shaj Mohan, “‘Une Bonne Nuit pour de Longues Promenades’: pour Bernard Stiegler”, Amitiés de Bernard Stiegler Douze contributions réunies par Jean-Luc Nancy, Editions Galilée, 2021.
7. Reductionism and the principles of hierarchies which guide them are ancient. One can see this in the plan of knowledge common to both the Stoics and the Epicureans. There are several analogies in this regard. In the animal analogy logic is the bones, ethics is the flesh and physics is the soul. In the agricultural analogy logic is the boundary of the field, physics is the fertile soil, and ethics is that which is reaped.
8. See Maël Montévil, “Historicity at the heart of biology”, Theory in Biosciences, 2020 and Giuseppe Longo, “How Future Depends on the Past and on Rare Events in Systems of Life”, https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01376411
9. War for most thinkers remain the height of isostheneia, which is also for them the pinnacle of the masculine, and war is found as the evidence of the irrepressibleness of the masculine.
10. For this reason, it is dangerous to use “war” analogously.
11. See Robert Bernasconi, The Question of Language in Heidegger's History of Being, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1985.
12. See Shaj Mohan, “On the Bastard Family of Deconstruction”, Philosophy World Democracy December 2022, https://www.philosophy-world-democracy.org/other-beginning/on-the-bastard-family-of-deconstruction and Shaj Mohan, “And the Beginning of Philosophy”, Philosophy World Democracy July 2021, https://www.philosophy-world-democracy.org/other-beginning/and-the-beginning-of-philosophy.
13. Mohan, “On the Bastard Family of Deconstruction”.
14. Jean-Luc Nancy, Identity: Fragments, Frankness, translated by François Raffoul, New York: Fordham university Press, 2014, p. 37.
15. Spearheads of stone, bronze daggers, steel swords, and nuclear missiles.
16. There are many more disappearing tendencies—writing by hand, mnemonics, recording institutions.
17. See Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi, Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-politics, Bloomsbury Academic, UK, 2019.