PHILOSOPHY

Nancy's Wager

16 JULY 2021

 

If philosophy has to be rescued for another beginning then it must first extricate itself from racialization, especially from those that structure Heidegger’s history and end of philosophy and his “task of thinking.” Any appearance of philosophy from outside the trade-off between “orient” and “occident” will be anastasis of philosophy. Towards it – and as we receive the three questions which are, in fact, Nancy’s Wager – we will have to grasp again what it means to be in the “Jüngster Tag” which is, of course, to be understood as the final hours. We are in the youngest days of philosophy.

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Empirical Construction, Julie Mehretu, Istanbul 2003; Image Credit: MoMA

                  he call of Jean-Luc Nancy which starts with a quotation from another (Heidegger) and stops with a question to all the others that we are and will be — this call is a provocation, a demand, an invitation, a challenge. We who are born in these final hours receive this call as nothing less than a wager, Nancy’s wager, le pari de Nancy. 


Each call is an opening. If it might lead to the establishing or founding of anything, it has nevertheless no absolute power to secure this foundation from ruin or to block the discoveries of the homologies that away in the ruins. 


Poets know this, they have been discovering the calls — of anguish, longing, wonder — which await in words, whether of everyday life or of other poets, and they have been sending these words “out and across” (as Celan says in “Die Schleuse”) changed but not exhausted. And with this tormenting, voluptuous power of the call the lovers of poetry too are intimate, above all Plato who distinguished it through his neologism mimesis, although few today harbour the torment that he registered in it while most leave intact its functional isolation into the family of imitation, verisimilitude, realism. 


This torment was first of all in the quotes that give the speech of the non-present other, quotation marks which for Plato instigate a possession by words, by another’s call — allo-phony — making of us a polynomial being, capable of becoming home to other laws. These marks also invisibilise themselves in exercising this power so that other as yet unknown possibilities rush into the span that begins to stretch all around the quotes, reaching out and across. And question marks — from the most ancient to the most modern, in science or in poetry, Socratic, Heideggerian, Freudian, Althusserian, or the questions questioned by Derrida — are yet other calls, opening, instigating.


By quoting Heidegger’s 1966 title in his own, and then recalling the drama of  philosophy and thinking, Nancy has opened another theatre, letting hear another call, to let it collide with what Heidegger was calling for, but also with that which Nancy had already been calling for in his recent writings. What is the span that has opened up in this unfolding of quotes where Heidegger’s “task” gives way to Nancy’s wager?

We are receiving his three questions at a distinct juncture which can be characterized, following Kant, as the “Jüngster Tag” which is, of course, to be understood as the final hours. We are in the youngest days of philosophy. We are also in the birthing hours of a new being, whose specific difference can only be indicated by the term “technological”, and which is arising out of what was man. In this case we mean that something is taking birth for which philosophy would have become too old.


When Heidegger was summoning, yet again in 1966, the scene of philosophy accomplishing itself in extinguishing itself in the uniform glare of “the technological understanding of being,” and when he indicated a thoroughgoing displacement of the history of philosophy as the history of metaphysics, that is, the history of the “west,” it was in the time of a veneration accorded to philosophy. As he said in “What Calls for Thinking,” in 1951, “there is everywhere a lively and constantly more audible interest in philosophy” and “philosophers are considered the thinkers par excellence.” (3) He could caution against “philosophizing” as, therefore, the source of a “stubborn illusion that we are thinking.” 


But the today the heart of philosophy speaks to a world where philosophy departments are being defunded or researchers are asked to compete for grants from corporations for viable projects — this is the irony today of being “satisfied with our poor philosophical autonomy” — while philosophers who play the gadfly to men in the marketplace, like Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, are executed without even a Socrates’ trial. Now, what is left of the so called “history of philosophy” is actively forgotten behind its industrial essence extracted in the form of “theory,” and now it is “thinking” which is everywhere being assumed as the title for the activities of technology corporations, “data science,” and the dreams of artificial intelligence and machine-messiahs. 

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“Are we going to stand in front of the untenable? Or are we going to be satisfied with our poor philosophical autonomy? Or, why not end it, having provided the proof (that no one asked) of a superb, majestic and abundant inanity?” (1)


There is no mourning here. No coward heart, which does not well up to the throat when called in the final hours tolled by abundant inanity. It calls back. This is the heart of philosophy speaking. The voluptuous heart of philosophy — voluptuous (2) with the passion for unhomeliness, polynomic in being prepared to be ripped, to suffer ruin …and anastasis. 

 

I

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                    for Heidegger, the privation of Being that gives the west is possible only after establishing “the west” as a fact, which as we all know is a very recently invented fact.

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Untitled, William Joseph Kentridge, 1998; Image Credit: MoMA

If “philosophy” is still a word that only gives added value to all this thought promotion, then we might say, in Heidegger’s idiom, that there is everywhere such a lively and constantly more audible interest in thinking that we have the stubborn illusion that we are philosophizing. Then, “thinking” too, another of philosophy’s words (if we must continue speaking as though there is this one thing philosophy) would have to be treated – like the Abbaus and Destruktions treated philosophy – to an examination — critique? psychoanalysis? deconstruction? — before we could welcome its “tasks.” This, and not the “end of philosophy” alone, is the depth of sedimenting ashes of both philosophy and thinking; so the question why not end it all must be the bitter taunt to those who seem to know that it has already ended and there is nothing left which is up to them even to end.


Thus it happens that there in the place where Heidegger’s essay had proceeded into its second section to sketch the elusive figure of the “matter of” thinking, we hear in Nancy’s text a refusal to ellaborate on what is “thinking”, a studied reserve like a cleansing of the palette for an other taste of philosophy. Rather, the “task” is designated here by insisting on “a philosophical meaning” of philosophy’s speech about its end. And in this pause, the very words “beginning” and “end” have moved away from Heidegger. This lends a different significance to what Nancy as, indeed, the philosopher of beginning had already been saying: “Philosophy begins from itself; this is a permanent axiom for it”; in the same text he also spoke of “The beginnings of philosophy: the word must be written as plural”. (4) 

II


To begin with, “beginning” should be distinguished from “origin” as the substance which receives the differences that are tolerable for it, that is, it remains the same as long as the predicates are within a certain range. This means, beginning should henceforth be distinguished, not only from the initial, the inaugural and the archē, but above all from the substantiality of a “philosophy” that would also be the substantiality of “the occident” in having “its” history in the range designated by Heidegger as: metaphysics as ontotheology as the history of the west. 


This oriental-occidental difference is as obscure as the ‘ontological difference’ and is indissociable from it in Heidegger, where the former constitutes the condition for the latter. The occident that is metaphysics is propelled through the sustenance of a privation of Being, which is articulated as ontological difference. But this means that for Heidegger, the privation of Being that gives the west is possible only after establishing “the west” as a fact, which as we all know is a very recently invented fact.

 

Nancy had questioned Heidegger’s thinking about philosophy, history, destiny, beginnings and ends, saying that:


This amounts to the confirmation that nothing essential has happened in the destiny of the West—nothing except the aggravation of metaphysics and its technical and democratic becoming. … Would there not have been more than one history? More and more or something other than “a history”?  Might not the historial be plural, scattered here and there along a path less ordered than the one that this thought assigns to the West? (5)


The substantiality of “the east-west” is constructed out of the various images of the Greeks and reference to them on all occasions. For example, Heisenberg found it necessary to refer to Aristotle’s concept of privation to justify the co-existence of states in quantum mechanics. In a much more comical manner, Indian politicians too have been making this gesture and refer to the old stories or epics to try and construct an oriental substantiality: it is claimed that airplanes were present in ancient subcontinent, so did they have internet; after all the gods communicated with each other and with men over great distances. Nancy cautions that we, 


misrecognize in this way that with and after the Greeks a great deal has happened that did not always come from the Greeks. But we have needed this image of the Greeks because we do not know how and are not able—or only with great difficulty—to go back any further. 


This construction of “philosophy’s beginning” formed the durable condition, not for philosophy, but for a recent, approximately three hundred year old auto-bio-graphy for philosophy established in certain philosophers’ texts. It is one that has also, as it should have much earlier, arrived at its end. 

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                    In “The Ister” and “Germania,” Hölderlin would see in the Ganges and Indus the conditions to conceive an originary force (a force which was and is easily recognisable in its idiom of pyro-philia as the Aryan fire — a pyro-philia that has also contended as the other of philosophia).

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Dionysus, Plato or Poseidon? – Bust excavated at the Villa of the Papyri, possibly of any of the three; Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the Jüngster Tag these are the things one must urgently do: take stock of conditions and especially what is “condition” and its difference with being, cause and also reason. Wherever the heart of philosophy speaks in any language, under any name, or namelessly, this will be its philosophical task. Let us, for now, emphasise two conditions.


First, the oriental-occidental difference is like the twin gods who are invoked in the metaphor of the twin rivers in the poem “Der Ister” by Hölderlin (no surprise, for post-Kant and together with Hölderlin, Hegel and the rest of German Romantics, philosophy began its obsessed preoccupation with “Europe,” “west” and “east”):


und Füllen gleich
In den Zaum knirscht er, 
and like foals He grinds the bit, 


Der scheinet aber fast

Rükwärts zu gehen und

Ich mein, er müsse kommen

Von Osten.
Yet almost this river seems
To travel backwards and
I think it must come from
The East.


Including in the oppositions of “the west and the rest” and of Heidegger’s “philosophy and thought”, these twins took several avatars—the distinction of domains of thought, the distinction of styles and concerns of thought, the cartographic confusions, the geo-political, the techno-militaristic. They took these avatars in order to distract us from “the end” by giving a deluding sense to our actions. 


Second, and equally importantly, this construction was not happening in and through Europe all by itself. In the subcontinent, this distinction of orient and occident was being established at around the same time through the collaborative exercises of colonials and the upper caste thinkers regarding the codification and distinction of religions and civilisations of the east.  A most significant reciprocation invested in the Occident-Orient difference is the adoption and re-invention of the ‘Aryan – An-aryan’ distinction by German, British and French Indologies; a distinction in whose developing span were delivered macabre political effects in both the subcontinent and in Europe. In “The Ister” and “Germania,” Hölderlin would see in the Ganges and Indus the conditions to conceive an originary force (a force which was and is easily recognisable in its idiom of pyro-philia as the Aryan fire — a pyro-philia that has also contended as the other of philosophia). These conditions gave rise to the ‘politics of the Aryans’, which had an immediate effect on Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their contemporaries on the subcontinent were the nationalist form of the ‘Aryan people’ through which the upper castes, especially Vivekananda and Gandhi, and the entire spectrum of their modern organisations, helped to invent ‘Hindu’ religion and its fascism, which governs India now. 


Around the same time as Heidegger was investing in the oriental-occidental distinction in Germany, M. K. Gandhi in India was engaged in a very similar project. For Gandhi, as for Heidegger, the occident marked a decline in man despite its techno-scientific achievements. Gandhi saw the orient in all those places where man did not deviate from the natural. For Gandhi, the occident was the designation of the deviation from the natural, and thus the designation of its necessary apocalypses. In 1909 He wrote of the west:


this civilization is irreligion, and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe, who appear to be half mad. 
This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed. (6)


And he too opposed philosophy as well as West as satanic to the good thinking, that can be called hypophysics. Whereas metaphysics can be indicated by the formula “Being is X,” hypophysical thinking, of which there are many but which was articulated most exhaustively by, of all modern thinkers of the world, Gandhi, can be indicated by the formula “Nature is value” where nature is all that is not man-made. Racisms including Heidegger’s metaphysical racism, and the caste order of the subcontinent are species of hypophysics, as are certain pronouncements within German Romanticism. Postcololnialist theory (which often combines Gandhi and Heidegger and many other thinkers of “Europe”, “western civilization” and “modernity”) and postcolonialist politics as they are practiced in the subcontinent has been a façade for the ‘Aryan’ politics which is now underway in the works of many who were the erstwhile post-colonialists.  


Then, it is not at all in Heidegger’s history of philosophy alone that these political effects of the constructions of “Europe”, “occidental” and “oriental,” and of the non-west in many other ways, must be traced. And, of course, there is much else that was generated by the oriental-occidental difference including the arrival in Europe of the freed image of the ‘pariah’ (anglicised term for “parayar” prevalent in the south of the subcontinent, and an emblem of untouchability and the caste order) who now contrasts “the parvenu” in a way that should continue to disturb us). 


These instances would suffice to indicate that the oriental-occidental difference has been a work of reciprocal attunements and chains of imitations of one by the other, to such an extent that, once in a while, one wonders like Orwell: 


The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.


However, what is even more worrisome is that which is excluded from the twinship and rendered “non-deprivable”, or that which is incapable of a deprivation of concerned thought. The people and the worlds which are held to be outside of the various imaginations of the oriental-occidental difference—the people in Africa, the natives of Americas, the natives of Australia and New Zealand, the Scandinavians, Central Asia, the south Indians who are called Dravidians. And these peoples can be assimilated as the predicates of the oriental-occidental difference, as some “decolonial” scholarship is striving to do, only at great risk. 

                     he called out to “a thought, even a world”, that would be “neither metaphysics nor hypophysics.” Philosophy begins again, and again, to look for this thought, which is its interminable, irreducible “for what” or end

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Prehistoric hand paintings at the Cave of Hands in Argentina, thought to be over 10,000 years old; Image Credit: theconversation.com

III


If philosophy has to rescued for another beginning then it must first extricate itself from racialization, discarding these orientations and occidentations, lest it risk becoming a “white theory.” In this, another crucial difference emerges between the two essays that bear almost the same name. Heidegger could only begin his call for another thinking as “the thinking that is neither metaphysics nor science.” But Nancy recognised equally the dangers in Heidegger’s thinking as well as in Gandhi’s as it “risks dissolving in the ‘ocean of Truth’ the very existence of men and women whom this very “Truth” should illuminate;” and hence, he called out to “a thought, even a world”, that would be “neither metaphysics nor hypophysics.” (7)


Philosophy begins again, and again, to look for this thought, which is its interminable, irreducible “for what” or end — neither end as destining-accomplishing demise nor end as the all-gathering image of “world” in the mirror of the “west” — but end as ends, in plural, that are awaiting their as yet unknown births and explosions in the polynomia of all things. This is how Nancy’s wager comes to us, through that one question of the three that releases an explosion of “end” and of ends: Are we going to stand in front of the untenable?


No task or matter [Sache] is announced here, since the philosophical meaning is already at stake and begins again with beginnings and ends: what kind of end is “the untenable” and what kind of beginning takes a stand? How shall we respond to this wager? We, whose conditions in so far as they were until recently given by ontological-occidental-oriental difference have become untenable? 


We should have to become familiar with this untenability: today, the recent substance, the “orient-occident”, has received more predicates than it could bear. It is now coming to be something other in a manner analogous to that of the motorised car that had received several modifications over the past decades—four-wheel drive, fuel injection, satellite navigation and so on — such that what began as a thing of freedom of movement is now, with self-driving automobiles, being displaced by mobile imprisonment. That is, the car has had a phase-shift into a prison. The scattering of all things held together by the confused difference between orient and occident is apparent. Thus, the crisis of the orient-occident difference, which has been vacated by substantiality and the concept of substance, has created a stasis. 


The terms and spaces held by this difference into various articulations are freeing up and scattering without another comprehending law. The end in this instance could be approached as crisis with which philosophy has a difficult relation and especially so today: we are already beyond the age of critique, which needs sufficient intervals between actions to master them. This interval is something we lack in the age of the speed of light. Criticalization is that which has come to take the place of critique. When elements of a system reach their limits and turn into something else with new functional relationships which that system can no longer accommodate alongside the limits of the other elements, what comes about is criticalization. Criticalisation exceeds the powers of critique to define the limits of the system and restore its elements to it. Criticalization leads to stasis.


Let us begin with this statement from Nancy: 


“In other words, we must learn to exist without being and without destination, to claim to begin or rebegin nothing— and also not to conclude.”(8)


That means, philosophy which was isolated functionally into the “occidental-oriental” difference recently, and then suffered the stasis created by this difference, has to come to stand outside it. Anastasis. 


Ana-stasis is that which comes over stasis.


Stasis derives from the speculative root “*sta” meaning to “hold in place” or to “hold firm”. From the same root is also derived the ancient Greek “histemi” which means “I stand”). Stasis. in the Greek polis, was said to occur when two or more comprised factions claim to dictate the the laws which would comprehend their lives together in the city. A state of inaction due to strife or civil war is also stasis since in that case no laws obtain.


In our time, we are undergoing the criticalization of all those conditions — intellectual, economic, environmental, and technological — through criticism and even critique had functioned. Anastasis seizes the criticalized system in order to salvage the homologies from it, to grant to the restless analogies without functional isolations the passion for unhomeliness, and at the same time to let a horizon of disquiet reveal a range of comprehending laws for the active polynomia. Indeed, as Gandhi found and loathed, Anastasis leaves ruins. 


Anastasis is neither the resurrection nor the raising of the dead, but “has to do with what anastasis is not or does not bring about from the self, from the subject proper, but from the other.” Ana-stasis is the rising of the other, which for us would be the other of the oriental-occidental difference. But what is it that comes after the vacation of the orient-occident difference? Any appearance of philosophy from outside the trade-off between orient and occident will be Anastasis of philosophy. No doubt, this possibility now rests with the machines as well – computers; they are giving the principles to live. We do not have the conditions to prepare for whatever may be coming, but we will have to discover and develop those new faculties with which to do so. As Derrida would say, take your time but be quick about it, because you do not know what awaits you. (9)

                    we hear in Nancy’s text a refusal to ellaborate on what is “thinking”, a studied reserve like a cleansing of the palette for an other taste of philosophy.

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The Forest in Winter at Sunset, Théodore Rousseau; Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Anastasis is the obscure beginning which would gather the ruins that belonged to the occidental as well as the oriental in order to make of them a chrysalis. And it will set off the imagos born in it. They will be cast into wholly other skies, with their own spans, and without trading in orientations and occidentations. We will be able to listen to their exchanges if we are able to attend to this coming end of the oriental-occidental difference. 


Divya Dwivedi, 13 July 2021

NOTES

1. Jean-Luc Nancy, “‘The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking’,” Philosophy World Democracy 2.7 (July 2021).


2. Voluptuous has nothing to do with presence.


3. Martin Heidegger, “What Calls for Thinking?” in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993, p.370.


4. Nancy, The Creation of the World or Globalization. Translated by François Raffoul and David Pettigrew. Albany: SUNY Press, 2007, p. 77, 83.


4. Nancy, The Banality of Heidegger, translated by Jeff Fort. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017, p. 37. 


5. Ibid., p. 39.


6. M. K. Gandhi, Gandhi: Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, ed. Anthony J. Parel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 37. 


7. Jean-Luc Nancy, Foreword to Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi, Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-Politics, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, p. ix.


8. Nancy, The Banality of Heidegger, p. 59. 


9. Derrida, The University without Condition’, in Without Alibi. Stanford CA :Stanford University Press, ,2002, p. 237.