A Note on Thomas Sheehan. By Alberto Moreiras.


At the end of a yet unpublished paper, “But What Comes Before the After?,” Thomas Sheehan asks how to go beyond Heidegger, how to move after Heidegger.   If Heidegger is for us the Socratic othen or “whence,” Sheehan asks “What is [specifically] the othen we push off from in moving towards an ‘after Heidegger’?” (14).   The question has to do with the problems that plague Heideggerian scholarship today—the tendencies of it to remain exegetical and paraphrastic even in terms of lexicon and jargon.   How do we understand Heidegger’s relevance, contra its merely academic exegesis and even more contra the political beautiful souls that block Heidegger’s relevance in the name of his “toxic social and political convictions” (14)? Sheehan proposes his own othen, and it is one that seems absolutely relevant to infrapolitics. I do not claim that infrapolitics is necessarily the only way to move “after Heidegger,” but I would venture that it is one of the ways to do it.

Sheehan’s text (I have asked him for permission to post it here, but he may understandably prefer not to until it is published) starts off by referring to Pindar’s “genoi oios essi mathon,” “learn and become what you already are.”   The latter part of Pindar’s injunction in the English translation (the first, “learn,” would refer to the analytic dimension) is what Sheehan calls the “protreptic” dimension of Heideggerian thinking, not subservient to the analytic, but on the contrary: “it is the final goal of all Heidegger’s work” (3).   The protreptic dimension, which Reiner Schürmann called “imperative” in the context of his explanation of Meister Eckhart’s work, alludes to the non-dissociation of the practical and the theoretical—but, more than that, it also points to a transgressive dimension of thought as itself practice. All thought, when “authentic” in the specific Heideggerian sense, leads to a “durchbruch,” to a breakthrough where existence, in each case one’s own, is at stake.

Sheehan prefers “Ex-istence,” in order to underline the ecstatic standing of Da-sein, its fundamental “ejectivity” (against every subjectivity and every objectivity) (11). Ex-sistence has a dual structure, as it refers to the structure of Da-sein (existential) and to the “persons and activities (existentiel) that this structure makes possible” (4).   The relationship between the existential and the existentiel is decisive, and necessarily the focus of the Heideggerian gaze, which, for Sheehan, was never abandoned.   If Ex-istence, as existential, opens the field of meaning, as the Open itself, the existentiel can never supress a relation to it, although such a relation can take many forms.   Sheehan even says that the Open is “the relation,” echoing an essay by Werner Hamacher (“The Relation”) that it would be pertinent to read in this connection: “Since ex-istence is the world-of-meaning . . . and since the world-of-meaning is the Open . . . , there is no need of a ‘relation’ that would span a ‘gap’ between ex-istence on the one side and the Open on the other. The so-called ‘relation’ is the Open itself; and ex-sistence is this very relation” (5). Let me submit that this relation, understood as the (tracing) game of existential and existentiel, could be redefined in terms of the trace structure, which would be the Derridean tropology for what Heidegger calls the ontico-ontological difference.   Ex-istence is the (trace) relation of the ontico-ontological difference for every singular Da-sein.

The task of Da-sein, existentiel, is making her or his own facticity explicit—this is also Heidegger’s own definition of philosophy (from his 1922 essay on Aristotle). “Authentic” existence, by no means only reachable through philosophical work, which constitutes only one of its tropes, is to be understood as simply the right way, the best way, of relating to the trace relation, that is, of making explicit the existential/existentiel relation and of living it out.

And what of this “authentic existence” for the thinker?  Sheehan refers to it in terms of ankhibasie, the Heraclitean hapaxlegomenon that means “ever approaching” (10).  It is an always ever asymptotic condition that cannot be calculated in advance.  If Geoffrey Bennington has recently referred to the “ever approaching” as a way of dwelling in “the politics of politics,” in an effort to make it clear that any epochal or ontological appropriation of politics always already blocks politicity, in the same way that any epochal appropriation of history blocks historicity (see “Microinterview with Geoffrey Bennington” below), we call it “infrapolitics.” (I myself used the term ankhibasie once to name the task of infrapolitics: “Pero justo en la medida en que la infrapolítica no es política, sino que sólo toca la política, en la medida en que la infrapolítica no es otra forma de política aunque sea quizás otra forma de pensar la política, en esa misma medida se abre también a un afuera no domable ni reducible por la angustiada pretensión de que todo es político.   Y es pensar ese afuera, que es por supuesto también una forma del adentro, lo que buscamos sin saber si su cercanía se hará accesible: ankhibasie. Habrá sido una forma de goce (otro) en el futuro perfecto.”)

The liberation of facticity into itself—that is, the making it explicit—is the exercitium of post-epochal thinking in Sheehan’s terms: “One can get free of being restricted to metaphysics as an ‘epoch,’ by embracing one’s appropriation and living out of it” (12).   Epochs are sequesterings of history, “the bracketing out of the Open” (12) in every case. Infrapolitics is post-epochal thinking, its attempt, an exercise in epoch-destruction, an exercise in an-archy for the sake of an existential/existentiel breakthrough, inconspicuous, an inconspicuous event in every case.   Thinking the non-event of appropriation in order to release facticity, politics, history into their own—is that not a way of pushing off from our contemporary othen? That is the wager, at any rate.

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