Democracy without arcanum: philosophical anthropology and metaphorics after The Question of Being & History 1964 seminar. (Draft for “Transformative Thinking Workshop”, University of Michigan, September 2017). By Gerardo Muñoz


Jacques Derrida’s important early 1964 seminar on Martin Heidegger, The Question of Being and History (2016), is more than a mere exegetical reading of Being and Time. I think it is also wrong to think of the seminar as an attempt to promote a “Heideggerian paideia” of a philosophical master. From the first session, it becomes clear that Derrida is not interested in producing anything that could resemble what we think of as “critical theory”. Indeed, theories today could be thought-provoking novels and melodramas, and every time that one hears of ‘good theories in America’ it is most certainty because they are good novels. No stories, no masters. It should come to no surprise that Derrida says that the Heideggerian ‘destruction’ could never entail a refutation. The craft of refuting belongs to the sophistry of meaning made possible through exchange and measurement. It is not coincidence that the sophists were performers of rhetorical persuasion, a pragmatic practice that unified substitution, linguistics, and temporality in semblance of philosophical deployment [1].

This game of refutation is always potentiality hegemonic, since its capability for truth never leans towards a singular ex-position. It is rather in the metaphorics of discourse that the singular runs astray as truth of being. As a preliminary condition of his seminar, Derrida makes himself unsophistically clear: there will be no anti-philosophical sophistry, no refutation, and no university productive surplus. In fact, one of the challenges that reading this seminar poses today –especially as professors or students having some relation to the contemporary university world – is to be found in an unbounded desire to extract essential lessons for the ‘present’. But one must reject the journalistic temptation in the teacher’s lesson. Furthermore, today this difficulty cannot be entirely solved by favoring écriture, but rather by confronting the task of thinking outside the dispensation of the order of ‘philosophy’, ‘literature’, or ‘politics’ [2]. The seminar is an invitation to accept the integrity of thinking with no derivative systematic and telic program.

If this is true, then one must take Derrida very seriously when he contends that: “there are no Heideggerianism and no Heideggerian” (Derrida 223). This affirmation is not rebutting the construction of a philosophical school under the label ‘Heideggerianism’. Rather, it is preparing, in its place and deferral, another entrance that neutralizes the metaphorical dissimulation that subordinates the tragic dimension covered up by narrative production of originary sense. Throughout the sessions, Derrida stages the possibility of rendering visible the ways in which the metaphysical tradition has never ceased to sleepwalk over its principles in language. This condition of sleepwalking is not the story that metaphysics has produced in its ipseity; it is rather a secondary plot that keeps buried the conditions under which stories are told, transmitted, redrawn, and acknowledged in a process that binds ontology and history.

Hence, the texture of the onto-theological ground of the philosophical tradition is novelesque. Derrida tells us: “Telling stories,” in philosophy, is for Heidegger something much more profound that cannot be so easily denounced as doxography. The Novelesque from which we must awaken is philosophy itself as metaphysics and as onto-theology” (Derrida 26) Telling stories has been the pacifier for the infant misrecognition of metaphysics as the teleological movement of history. But there is no formal uniformity to the philosophical tradition. From Aristotle’s organon and Hegel’s philosophy of history, from Husserl’s empiricism and Descartes’ skeptical logos and Bergson’s duration, telling stories has produced what Derrida calls a state of immaturity, a permanent infantile stage of storytelling. This does not mean that adults are immune to storytelling, quite the contrary. One could argue that the Enlightenment’s call to an exit from immaturity was yet another variation of a sleepwalking night under the self-possession of logos in the name of an ultimate indivisible sovereignty. Let’s recall Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?”. If one submits to the courage to ‘use of one’s own reason’ then one must admit that no failure is possible, except as cowardice. This is why every fracture of the Kantian bodybuilder of reason needs to compensate with subjective guilty (‘only you are to blame for this failure’). Here we also are thrown into a story of modern capitalist subjectivity that necessarily needs to sublimate finitude as either economic guilt or political treason. Since there is no unifying form of infantile storytelling, a metaphoric combustion supplements the transaction of every epochal failure to radically confront the problem of history. The power of the metaphor works to alleviate and postpone the inquiry of the existential.

If metaphorics is the core problem in The Question of Being and History, it comes to a surprise that Derrida wouldn’t openly confront the strategic defense of storytelling pursued by the post-Heideggerian school of philosophical anthropology. Even more so, because Heidegger himself had seen in Max Scheler – who at times is seen as one of the “founding fathers” of philosophical anthropology –the strongest force of German philosophy during the first decades of the twentieth century [3]. But perhaps there is no mystery involved, and Heidegger’s ontological difference is nothing but a direct engagement to a philosophical anthropology’s recasting of a metaphysical and rhetorical humanism in the wake of biology and Weberian sociology of the separation of powers. Although this is not the place to reconstruct the strands of philosophical anthropology, I want to recap at least three movements to situate its program. First, one must recall its starting point in Max Scheler’s The Human Place in the Cosmos (1928), where a metaphysical humanity was thought as a dual substance between an external process of spiritualization and internal biological drive. Scheler’s hypothesis of the deficiency and excessive posture of the human will later become premises for Helmuth Plessner and Hans Blumenberg’s speculative projects of modern man’s self-affirmation against the risks of absolute contingency.

The driving force behind philosophical anthropology hinges on the idea that every singular human necessitates concealment from himself in so far he is deficient. For Plessner, speculative anthropology does not presuppose a subject, since man is first and foremost a homo absconditus that “never discovers himself complete in his actions [and] only has his shadow which precedes him and remains behind him” [4]. This deficient edge entails that man can only interact with reality through a partial and metaphorical mediation that fails to actualize an absolute inner-worldly history of salvation. As a non-absolute and fissured being, man can only relate through metaphors. Metaphorics for philosophical anthropology is thus a nonconceptual discharge of existence against the absolute or literalness of the objectivity of phenomena.

In fact, while Derrida was working on the 1964 seminar, another exponent of philosophical anthropology, Hans Blumenberg, had just written Paradigms for a metaphorology (1960), a collection of essays that attempted to rework the relation between history, metaphorics, and existence. Like Derrida, Blumenberg also departed from the crisis of phenomenology and metaphysical tradition in the wake of Heidegger’s radicalization of thinking beyond history and ontology in Being and Time. However, for Blumenberg, the question of being in philosophical reflection amounted to a dysfunctional mode of representation, since the essence of care would render impossible any form of delegation and incommensurable exchangeability [5]. If the question of Being presupposes an indeterminate structure of existence, then this could only mean that an absolute conceptualization could place philosophy as an index of poetics. The impossibility of substitution and delegation of singulars meant that it was philosophical anthropology’s task to explain man’s deficiency once immersed in reality as “always indirect, circumstantial, delayed, selective, and above all metaphorical” [6].  Because we cannot endure the absolutism of reality, man can affirm its existence only through rhetorical and symbolic forms that exceed empiricism and measurement into potential expectations. Metaphorics interrupts the absolute reality, while opening the singular vis-à-vis stories to the historical density of the concept.

Philosophical anthropology’s reaction to Being as care, is perhaps best explained in Blumenberg’s sardonic treatment of being as a “MacGuffin”, in which he refers to a dialogue that Hitchcock had made up between two men on a train [7]. So the story goes: one man asks about what is inside a package in the baggage rack, and the other answers, “Oh, that’s a McGuffin, it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands”. But if there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands, what is exactly a McGuffin? The mystery of the McGuffin begins as soon as one reveals his name, keeping silence of its logic or procedure. The McGuffin must remain a mystery. For Blumenberg, Dasein shares a similar structure that enacts curiosity in order to avoid boredom. The enigma of the McGuffin resides in the suspension of storytelling or rhetorical mediation involved. This is quite the opposite way in which Derrida refers to the source of the enigmatic and enigmaticity in the constitutive of privilege of the present at the heart of every metaphysical epoch. In an important passage of the seventh sessions, Derrida writes:

“Enigmatic, then, is the discourse — and the enigma is always, as its name indicates in Greek, ainos, a discourse and even a story — on history at the moment that it really must speak about the past. Enigmatic is the discourse on the past, enigmatic is the past as origin of discourse, enigmatic is historicity as discursively. The time of the past in discourse and the past of time in ek-sistence are the enigma itself. They are not enigmas among others but the enigma of enigma, the enigmatic source of the enigma in general, enigmaticity” (Derrida 174).

This passage brings forth several difficulties. To the extent that we are to understand the destruction of temporality of presence as a fundamental point of inflection of the destruction of metaphysics in the seminar, enigmaticity points to an aporetic limit in which the past of tradition, the generality of inheritance and transmission become one with the origin of the present. This relation is fundamentally enigmatic because the temporality of presence appears as one of dissimulation. In other words, the enigma signals the movement of metaphysics’ sonambulism. Here one is able to see the preliminary movements of Derrida’s subsequent deconstruction of the presence of metaphysics from the structure of the trace. Derrida seems to suggest the enigma recalls the fact that we take for granted the temporality of the present as presence. In this crucial injunction we can approach the irreducible distinction between Blumenberg and the project of existential temporality of Being.

Whereas Blumenberg understood the enigmatic formalization of presence as a danger of the absolutism of reality that solicited the human engagement through compensatory metaphorics for self-affirmation; for Derrida the destruction of presence entails a factical suspension of all metaphors conferring to a temporality always already that lets existence be. This letting be, however, cannot be re-metaphorized, as Giorgio Agamben has recently undertaken in Use of Bodies (2014), to make it coincide with an ontological primacy of the political [8]. Derrida’s early seminar is an attempt to make the case that for this im-possible inherence of the philosophical tradition without first privileging philosophy (ontology) as arcana for thought. Here destruction of metaphysical ontology essentially encompasses a transformation for thinking politics as excess to every foundation that works against singular existence. In an important passage of the seminar, Derrida warns of the impossibility of derivative originary politics:

“Heidegger does not provide, and does not have to provide, an ethics or a politics. Insofar as he is analyzing the essence of the decision in the situation — the decisionality and being of the structure in general — he does not have to tell stories and say what must be done, in fact, here or there, in this or that situation” (Derrida 187).

So, within a general economy of de-metaphorization, there are no derivative politics or ethics from the destruction of philosophical storytelling. For Derrida, more importantly, this also means that one must be vigilant of the force of the negative: every destruction of principial (archē) temporality cannot deliver us with an an-archia as a reversal towards an ethics of a non-political essence.  This gesture would belong to what one could call the nomic and temporal acceleration of a historicist philosophy of salvation. This is also why Karl Lowith found gratification when Heidegger told him that he “agreed without reservation that his concept of ‘historicity’ was the basis of his political ‘engagement’” [9]. In this framing, “Heideggerian” historicity yields a non-political dismissal of ethics. But we are not going to subscribe anecdotal veracity in a game of refutation. In fact, in the opening of existential historicity a relation between politics and thought is the infrapolitical designation that marks the passage from historical ontic storytelling to existential de-narrativization. Infrapolitics could depart from the Heideggerian suggestion that ‘essence of the polis is non-political’, but it avoids interpretations of this stepback as a flight from politics [10].

I think that what Derrida already quite forcefully discloses in the 1964 seminar is an infrapolitical historicity that is necessarily followed by an affirmation of a quasi-concept of democracy. I emphasize “–quasi” since democracy cannot constitute either a thetic or hegemonic ground. Infrapolitics would come to trace the non-metaphoricity in the metaphorics between thought and politics as a retreat from the anxiety of an arcanum. The destruction of the enigma of the temporality of present as privilege of presence necessarily demands a suspension of every political arcanum. Carl Schmitt defines the arcanum as the political secret of the modern state sovereignty’s technology, as the phantasmatic essence of politicity [11]. Thus for Schmitt “every great politics belongs to an arcanum”, which secures order and communal subordination, providing legitimacy of a mythical drama that unfolds a theological shadow containing liberal endless dialogue. The enigma of the arcanum coincides with a notion of history as a mystery, since it is also a political theology of communal salvation. The well-known Pauline notion of katechon in Schmitt’s thought is a way to concretely dispense every political decision to an existential temporalization that must decide in the face of disintegration. Indeed, in schmittian terms, the drama of history stages the katechon against anarchos, in an effort to tame the prevalent liberal ethical anarchy dispensed by the technical structuration of modern nihilism. This is why Schmitt represents a hyperpolitical thinker that guards and protects the arcana of an originary authority. But infrapolitics cannot amount to a negation of the arcanum in the direction of anarchy. This is the second option that existential infrapolitics denies.

Derrida was very attentive to this second slip in his early essay on Levinas’ “Violence and Metaphysics” distinguishing between being and commandment: “Being itself commands nothing or no one. As Being is not the lord of the existent, its priority (ontic metaphor) is not an archia. The latter are therefore “politics” which can escape ethical violence only by economy: by battling violently against the violences of an-archy whose possibility in history, is still accomplice of archaism” [12]. In his commentary on this important negation of the anarchy principle, Moreiras objects to the eschatology of messianic peace that every an-archy proxies for political arcana. Thus, the negation of archaic politics as an an-archy of ontology is still supported by the archē. In this sense, infrapolitics is the term that seeks to reorient a radical detachment of anarchy as a secondary declination that displaces the co-belonging of politics and ethics, to the irreducible distance between politics and thought. In fact, what we see in those gestures that have paradoxically posited anarchy as first principle – from Reiner Schürmann to Miguel Abensour to most recently Agamben’s an-archical modal subject within an archeological history – is that are still subjected (hypokeimenon) and subject to the deployment and clousure of the command [13].

In place of an arcanum that subordinates existence to politics and an a-historical anarchy as form of an ethics, Derrida’s elaboration of historicity in the 1964 seminar yields an infrapolitics as a third turn that is neither an anti-politics nor an ethics of the singular encounter with the other. Infrapolitics could thus be thought as a third moment that thinks with and beyond Heidegger the notion of democracy as always deficient, always to come, and quasi-concept that is never fully political, nor entirely given to closure. Many years later, Derrida would link democracy and historicity in Rogues in that: “…the language of democracy has an essential historicity of democracy, of the concept and the lexicon of democracy (the only name of a regime, or quasi regime, open to its own historical transformation, to taking up its intrinsic plasticity and its interminable self-critical, one might even say its interminable analysis)” [14]. The fact that Derrida denotes an “essential historicity” to democracy is fundamental. Unlike the political arcanum or the eschatological somnambulism of conducted by an-archy, democracy watches over the historical absolutism lacking in the horizon of politics as last instance of thought.

Infrapolitics names a transformative thinking that cannot be integrated under the arcana of the One, and that consigns a democratic indifference. The fact that democracy can provide a non-anarchic relation with the coming of nihilism, announces that only “in principle it assumes the right to criticize everything publically, including the idea of democracy, its concept, its history, and its name” [15]. Underneath, the historicity of being puts to work a deficient relation of every singular with politics. This form of democratic reinvention of ‘essential historicity’ at a near distance, poses another challenge for thinking freedom as a permanent examination of the fictio legis inherited from the legal institutions. Democracy presupposes the promises to think historicity (Geschehen) as an undoing of the present into present as past of a future. This is the final displacement of historicity of the origin where no arcanum is subsumed within existential temporality. Derrida comes close to explicitly naming a democracy of unequal singulars, which Jean Luc Nancy has called the democratic truth beyond the categories of onto-theology storytelling:

“…one should not even say inequality but anequality, inequality presupposing a defect or a shortcoming with respect to a measure or a telos, to a common entelechy, to a measure of all things. The concept of anequality is the only one able to respect this originality, and the radicality of the difference of which Heidegger was always primarily concerned to remind us, an originary difference: that is, one not thinkable within the horizon of a simple and initial or final unity. So, an irreducible multiplicity of historicities.” (Derrida 208).

The assertion of a historial democracy unlocks every process of singularization where politics is irreducible neither to “heroic individuals nor communitarian resolution” (Derrida 198).  The end of political ontology destroys the operative process of dissimulation produced in every hegemonic phantasy.  Thus, a-metaphorical thinking is the infrapolitical turbulence within the theory of politics and the ontological void of the political. But can we truly say that this amounts to a rejection of ‘philosophical anthropology”? Philosophical anthropology cannot provide us with a politics as the telic organization of existence to sustain community or history. It cannot depart from an-archic metaphorics. So it must come to terms with the finitude that is prior to the deployment of deficiency and delegation.

This is the supplementation that any philosophical anthropology should address in every (im)possible metaphorics. I take this to be one of the possible guiding marks in Derrida’s only mention of ‘philosophical anthropology’ in the seminar: “Philosophical anthropology, necessary though it is, must lean on this analytic of Dasein and come after it if it wants to rest on a satisfactory philosophical base” (Derrida 56). This tracing out of the metaphor borders an existential temporality that can only announce a movement to an infrapolitical reflection at work in the majestic (presbeia) and insufficient composure of democracy.






  1. Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript. London: Verso, 2010.
  2. Alberto Moreiras has made an important distinction between first and second wave of deconstruction in order to distinguish deconstruction as a reflective practice from the history of its reception. More importantly, this distinction helps to differentiate between a residual textuality and a turn towards thinking politics as infrapolitics. For a discussion of this, see Marranismo e inscripción (Escolar y Mayo, 2016).
  3. Martin Heidegger. “In Memory of Max Scheler” (1928). Heidegger: The Man and the Thinker (ed. Thomas Sheehan). New York: Transaction Publishers, 2010.
  4. Helmuth Plessner. “De Homine Abscondito”. Social Research, Vol.36, No.4, 1969.
  5. Hans Blumenberg. “Prospects for a Theory of Nonconceptuality”. Shipwreck with Spectator: Paradigm of a Metaphor for Existence. Massachusetts: MIT, 1997. p.107
  6. Hans Blumenberg. “An anthropological approach to rhetoric”. After Philosophy: End or Transformation, MIT Press, 1987. p.439.
  7. Hans Blumenberg. “Being – A MacGuffin: how to preserve the desire to think”. Salmagundi, No.90-91, 1991, p.191-193.
  8. At the end of Use of Bodies (2016), for instance, Agamben writes: “And if being is only the being “under the ban” – which is to say, abandoned to iself of beings, then categories like “letting be”, by which Heidegger sought to escape from the ontological difference, also remain within the relation of the ban”. p.268.
  9. Karl Lowith. “My Last Meeting with Heidegger in Rome, 1936”. New German Critique, No.45, 1988. p.115-116.
  10. Barbara Cassin. “Greek and Romans: Paradigms of the Past in Arendt and Heidegger”, Sophistical Practice, 164-188.
  11. Carl Schmitt. Dictatorship. New York: Polity, 2013. p.16-20.
  12. Quoted in Alberto Moreiras’ “Infrapolitical Derrida”, forthcoming, 2017. p.141.
  13. The contradiction of the an-archic position in contemporary thought has also been treated by François Loiret in his “L’épuisement des archéologies.”.épuisement-des-archéologies “.
  14. Jacques Derrida. Rogues: Two essays on reason. Stanford University Press, 2005. p.25.
  15. Ibid., p.28.


Geschehen and (Hi-)Story-telling. Notes on Derrida “The question of History and Being.” (draft)

To speak of a question of being is, by the simple elocution of the word being, to determine it, to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor.  (224)


Mimicking Derrida’s gesture, I can start by trying “in a quite preliminary way to justify in its literality the title” of these notes “Geschehen and (Hi-)Story-telling“– a title that I do not especially like but somehow imposed itself and resisted to all my attempts of revise it.

Following the pattern of the -terribly misleading-moralistic- dualistic interpretation of the Analytic of Dasein based on the opposition authentic/inauthentic, one might be tempted to read the conjunction in the title as an essential disjuncture between the two terms, which would be also the trench where philosophy should set its defense lines.  Heidegger himself would seem to encourage such an interpretation when at the beginning of Sein und Zeit he reproduces the classic gesture of dismissing story-telling quoting Plato’s Sophist:

The first philosophical step in understanding the problem of being consists in avoiding the muthon tina diegeisthai (keine Geschichte erzählen) in not “telling a story”, that is, not determining beings as beings by tracing them back in their origins to another being — as if being had the character of a possible being. (SuZ 5)

But story telling is nothing strange to philosophy. “’Telling stories,’ in philosophy, is for Heidegger – as Derrida clarifies – something much more profound and that cannot be so easily denounced as doxography. The Novelesque form which we must awaken is philosophy itself as metaphysics and as onto-theology.” (26) Story telling is any discourse about beings and the origin of beingness in terms of becoming. Any ontic history is already story-telling.  Metaphisics is story-telling and story-telling is always already onto-theology and humanism.

And this is because what is behind story-telling is the privilege accorded by philosophy to the present. The privilege of present is itself initially and for the most part what orients the Dasein in its everydayness. It is what marks the ordinary ontic understanding of time. It grew out of the inauthentic understanding of time rooted in Dasein inauthentic temporality, which stems directly from its authentic temporality. (§ 65) One could say that the absolute privileging of the present as the transcendental framework to understand the totality of being is the common ground for philosophy and Dasein’s ‘common sense’. Here, it is where subjectivity, community, as well as ontic history are grounded as such, and in their respective reciprocal implications. In this sense, in the transcendental structure of the Present is where all the main onto-theological closures take place.

First and foremost, it is the place of subjectivist closure. Through the privileging of the Present, life gains its continuity: life is understood in its Zusammenheit, as course, continuity, and concatenation of lived experience. And this way, the pure identity of the ego, the unity of the self, and the stability of the transcendental subject are guaranteed. This is the historical subject understood as being in history and subject to events. [Paraphrasing Heidegger’s chapter 72 of Sein und Zeit] This subject exists as the sum of the momentary realities of experiences that succeed each other and disappear in a succession gradually fill up a framework, an objectively present path. And – it is worth noticing – the framework is a narrative framework, and the objective presence of the present in the form of a path is made possible only narratively.

Second is the communitarian closure. Privileging the present is the very condition of community whose metaphysical structure mirrors the model of the subject. The presupposition of living in the same present is the transcendental condition of any community. But the present that the community shares is first and foremost the reality of Today where the past, meaning the “no longer objectively present,” manifests its effects as tradition. The community represents itself now as what has arisen from a collection of events that can be gathered into a teleological narrative that remitted the community to its destiny. In this sense, the same narrative condition, the same narrative framework is constitutive of the unity of the community in its continuity, meaning its Zusammenheit. The unity and the continuity of the destiny of a community is narratively produced.

The metaphysical closure of History is in general the closure of the within-time-ness of that which guaranties the continuity of the subject and the community. In this sense, the closure of History, is itself part of the mirroring of the continuity of the life of the subject in the continuity of the life of the community, and it presupposes the possibility of such a mirroring. On the one hand, the gathering of events into the unity of a narrative as common memory of the community is instrumental to the constitution of the community itself. The destination of the narrative is the community that transmits it and requires its transmission for the sake of its own reproduction. On the other hand, the unity of history as object of human consideration always assume the continuity-unity of subjectivity in any of its ethical-political collective forms.

One can say then, not only, that story-telling is itself grounded in the privilege of the present, and that it assumes such a threefold metaphysical closure as its transcendental condition, but also, that it is somehow always already serving it and (maybe) performatively confirming it. (Hi)story-telling is initially and for the most part telling about these closures. It shows the ultimate complicity of onto-theology and humanism at the very core of metaphysics.

So, what really is at stake in “stop telling stories,” is destroying “the privilege of the present” as the self-evidence of the ground for metaphysical closure, meaning for thinking Being as totality of beings. As Derrida puts it during “session six”:

It must be clearly understood that this absolute privileging of the Present and the Presence of the Present that Heidegger must destroy or shake up in order to recover the possibility of historicity cannot be destroyed by him the way one criticizes a contingent prejudice. It must be clearly understood that what he is going to solicit (I prefer this word to “destroy”: comment) in this privilege of the Present is the self-evidence, the assurance, the most total and most irreducible ground of the totality of metaphysics itself; it is philosophy itself. (138)

What is at stake in Heidegger’s classical gesture of dismissing story-telling and philosophical mythology, is the very possibility of posing the question of Being as such, which becomes possible only through an understanding of the temporality of Da-sein. It is a matter of understanding Da-sein’s authentic temporality, that is “Geschehen,” meaning “historicity as the constitution of the being of Da-sein, to show [I quote from SuZ] “that his being is not ‘temporal,’ because ‘it is in history,’ but because, on the contrary, it exists and can exist historically only because it is temporal in the ground of its being.” (345)  Heidegger’s resolution of stop telling-stories then has to do with the possibility of understanding Da-sein’s authentic temporality, which is at the same time the only possibility of understanding the privilege of the present as the irreducible ground of metaphysics and so, the only actual possibility of stop telling stories. However, understanding Da-sein’s authentic temporality means understanding that the inauthentic understanding of its being it is not an extrinsic threat to Dasein, but “a possibility and even an essential necessity inscribed in the very heart of its being.” (116) The Da of Dasein is the key to its historicity. There Dasein dwells in ecstatic ex-position to the historicity of being, and exists historically in its proximity to Being. Such a proximity is the proximity of language. The historicity of language is the historicity of being and is the historicity of Dasein. (see Derrida “language is the shelter of Being…and this shelter is historical” 59) In such a proximity, Dasein exists historically both authentically and inauthentically, or, better, first and for the most part inauthentically. Inauthenticity is a primordial possibility of Dasein’s Geschehen. Language itself is first and for the most part the language of metaphysics, its formal (predicative?) structures are reproducing the subjectivist closure, inherently privileging the present, and building ontic metaphors. Language is virtually always already story telling.  So, there is no originary truth of Being first, that language would be improperly covering up metaphorically through the rhetorical exercise of telling stories. Story-telling is the metaphoricity of language as such.

Now the thinking of the truth of being is to come but to come as what was always already buried. It follows that metaphor is the forgetting of the proper and originary meaning. Metaphor does not occur in language as a rhetorical procedure; it is the beginning of language, of which the thinking of being is however the buried origin. One does not begin with the originary; that’s the first word of the (hi)story.
This means in particular that there is no chance, that there will never be any chance for those who might think of metaphor as a disguise of thought or of the truth of being. There will never be any chance of undressing or stripping down this naked thinking of being which was never naked and never will be. The proper meaning whose movement metaphor tries to follow without ever reaching or seeing it, this proper meaning has never been said or thought and will never be said or thought as such. (62-63)

At this point, it becomes clear that there is no opposition, but rather an essential as well as conflictual relationship hiding in the title “Geschehen and Story-telling“. Is there any way out of story-telling? Can philosophy think without narration?

I would say that following Heidegger-with-Derrida, the actual only possible counterpoint of “story-telling” is not geschehen, but rather questioning, interrogating, inquiring. Not only because the interrogative form seems less affected by the metaphoricity of language than the predicative one; but because the ontic-ontological priority of Dasein – as “this being which we ourselves are”- comes from the very fact that this being “includes inquire among the possibilities of its being” (SuZ 6) This means that it is through this possibility of inquiring, even beyond the limits of its own language, that Dasein dwells in the proximity of being. In this sense, it is clear why it is not then an accident if the word question is the only word in the title of the course that Derrida did not tried to justify. As the conclusive remarks states:

The title of this course was, I recall: “Heidegger: The Question of Being and History.” You remember that I tried at the outset to justify each of the words of this title. Each of them, even the name Heidegger, has turned out to be metaphorical. There is one word, perhaps you remember, that I did not try to justify, and that was question. (225)

So, there is no way out of metaphoricity and story-telling. Thinking can only in the best scenario be an interrupted sequence of metaphors, a sequence of metaphors interrupted by the inquiring of metaphoricity of language as such. By interrupting the metaphoric movement of language, by interrupting the (hi)story-telling, thinking can try to interrupt the metaphysical closure.

If, then, using another metaphor, one calls vigilance this thinking destroying metaphor while knowing what it is doing […] So it is not a matter of substituting one metaphor for another, which is the very movement of language and history, but of thinking this movement as such, thinking metaphor in metaphorizing it as such, thinking the essence of metaphor (this is all Heidegger wants to do). (190)

Now to move toward the conclusions of this contribution, I would like to refer more directly all of this to infrapolitical thinking and its relation to something like an infrapolitical narrative. Infrapolitical thought is always already the gesture of de-metaphorization of metaphysical closure.  Thinking the infrapolitical dimension of existence has always to do with challenging the threefold metaphysical closure of subject-community-history and within it any ethical-political pretension of exhausting existence as such. In this sense, I would feel comfortable saying that what infrapolitical thought is trying to do is “to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor” (224), or that is the same, it is trying to think historicity, Geschehen, through the suspension of ethico-political (hi)story-telling.

My question is if there is a possibility of narrative (that we can provisionally call an infrapolitical non-narrative) that would determine narratively the cipher of the non-narrative, ie. the non-narrative cipher of infrapolitical existence.  Thinking cannot really escape a certain degree of metaphoricity, but only interrupting it, it can make visible the possibility of non-metaphoricity as coextensive to metaphorical language.  The possibility of the non-metaphor is given only in the language itself as the – still linguistic and still metaphoric-  gesture of crossing out the trace of metaphor.

Is there then a possible relation to story-telling able to cross the narrative closure? Is there a possible negative narrative that solicits the privilege of present, the unity and continuity, the Zusammenheit, the ipseity of life and community in order to let the infrapolitical dimension of existence be?

Because, if there is such a narrative, than it seems clear to me that it is the only one apt to build something like a democratic community. Only a community built on the ground of the impossibility of communitarian closure –both in terms of subjectivity and historicity – a community that thinks infrapolitically its own impossible Zusammenheit can be ‘something like a democratic community.’

The question is about a narrative able to make present (of course is still a narrative so the trace of the privilege of present cannot help but being there) the ecstatic temporality of existence, where the primacy of the projection toward the future, toward its potentiality as who is always already thrown in-the-world, which is a condition always already an a-synchronically shared with other Dasein that are indeed mitsein.


Notes on Sessions Six Through Nine of Jacques Derrida’s Théorie et pratique.

IMG_56111. Some perplexity regarding the abruptness of session nine, in particular because Derrida says, for the first time in the printed text, that all along the question has been this, what follows: and what follows are considerations on psychoanalysis, analytic theory, analytic practice, and analytic technique.   In the same way that Heidegger could bring the issue of technique to bear on the Marxist (and Althusserian) determination of theory/practice, in order to declare Marxism yet another instance of metaphysics and incapable therefore of accomplishing a true overflowing of philosophy, Derrida brings the issue of analytic technique to bear on psychoanalysis. The question is, is analytic technique a “modern technique” in the Heideggerian sense? That is, does the analytic technique belong to the epoch of modern technology?   Essentially, as determined perhaps, even if rather tenuously, in Session Eight, what is modern about the modern technique is that, in it, “Entbergen [unconceal] does not deploy itself any more as a ‘pro-duction’ (Her-vor-bringen) in the sense of poiesis . . . but rather as ‘Heraus-fordern,’ as a pro-vocation that tears away, requests, extracts violently with accumulation” (170).   Derrida fundamentally finishes his seminar raising the question whether the analytic technique has already taken decisive distance from modern technique, in spite of appearances.   But this question is strangely, uncannily, linked to another question which is not the same question, namely, the question of what we could call the save, or salvation.   Whether psychoanalysis, or even Marxism, or even Heideggerianism, by being re-traced to the ultimate question of the essence of technique, could in fact organize an einkehren, a return home or a homecoming, an orientation towards the homecoming understood relationally, that is, as a simply ever-more original unconcealment. Derrida cites Heidegger in his penultimate page against the menace that “returning to a more originary unconcealment and experiencing the call of a more primal truth be refused” (173).   This question of the save concludes the seminar.   It is, to my mind, the site of the counter-overflowing, but it is far from clear to me that Derrida has done anything but repeat the Heideggerian solution, not in that sense a third way, not a Derridean determination of what he could have found doomed, or metaphysically doomed, in Marxism yes, but also in Heideggerianism.   The issue is, therefore, whether a certain Heideggerianism can be called upon to save Marxism as well as to save psychoanalysis, or to save thought itself, from metaphysics, and to save Dasein from being refused an experience of truth not constrained to being as production.

2. That is, to me, what results from the questions to Heidegger that Derrida will indicate yet again in the seventh session (he had already raised them in session five): “Does Heidegger not reproduce, in the style of the questions he posits from the border of philosophy, philosophy, the relationship of philosophy to itself? . . . wanting to go through thought beyond metaphysics, would Heidegger not reproduce a ‘reactive’ research [understood as] a theoreticism that wants to reappropriate theoria against practicism, by returning to a ‘more originary’ or ‘more initial’ site?” (143).   The answer, to the obscure extent it is given, will have to do with whatever we think the answer to the question of analytic technique may be: is analytic technique also a reflective resetting of the endless search for an always-already where the ec-static temporality of Dasein exercises itself?   Is the endless search for an always-already, understood as the save, whether in terms of Gelassenheit (there is a meditation on Heideggerian Gelassenheit in session six) or in terms of exposure to whatever is more ancient as truth, aletheia as ever more initial unconcealment, not Derrida’s response to the question of theory-practice?

3. Besinnung (meditation) opens itself as a “passive praxis” (125) of transformation no longer productionist. It searches for what is unavoidable or unmissable within every system of production: “Physics cannot accede the unavoidable that is for it physis, since the objectivity of nature to which it relates is only one of the ways in which physis determines itself. In the same way, for psychiatry . . . the Dasein of man remains the unavoidable: ‘the Dasein, for which man as man ex-ists . . ., remains the unavoidable of psychiatry.’ In the same way, ‘history’ (Geschichte) remains the unavoidable for ‘history as theory’ (Historie). And for ‘philology,’ ‘grammar,’ ‘etymologie,’ the ‘comparative history of languages,’ ‘stylistics’ and ‘poetics’ what remains unavoidable is language” (128).   Besinnung opens towards the unavoidable in productive systems through a practice of the “tra-” (“en tra-jet de pensée” [129]) that links it to the exercise I call infrapolitics.

4. Perhaps the more enigmatic of Derrida’s proposals: for him, techné and praxis “are not separable in a modern concept of labor” (161). They were separable for Aristotle and for Heidegger. Heidegger’s entire critique of Marxism can be subsumed into the forced separation of technique and praxis which is the very condition of the subsumption of praxis into technique–Marxist practice is productionist.   This is what is intriguing: “You will say: but if Heidegger had returned labor to Aristotelian practice, the result would have been the same. Yes, but perhaps not if he had broken with the dissociation between techné and praxis operated by Aristotle and he had proposed to himself a new concept, a new organization, etc.” (162).   I find this hard to agree with, but perhaps it is what Derrida had in mind when, in session four, he spoke about the possibility that Marxism could be understood “so as to render account of metaphysics as technological humanism rather than to let itself be understood as such” (92).   The question for Marxism is a modulation of the question for psychoanalysis: are they something other than, and beyond, modern technique?   Could they be?  A positive answer could in fact move further than Heidegger did. Until we have it, we remain within the question. Is that comfortable enough?



Stories or fiction? A footnote to Derrida’s The Question of Being and History. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Arguably, one of central problems in Heidegger: The Question of Being and History (2016) is the radical destruction of storytelling proper to onto-theological history. For instance, if we are to take the question of historicity seriously, Giorgio Agamben’s recent efforts on a ‘modal ontology’ provides yet another form of storytelling principled on henological absolutism. A similar gesture appears in Reiner Schürmann’s late work on the possibility of an outside of metaphysics vis-à-vis Plotinus’s hypostases of a “One” prior to all differences and intellect [1]. Although Schürmann points to Derrida’s suggestions on Neo-Platonism as an exception to onto-theology, one should bare in mind that any effective destruction of storytelling would also bring to ruin the henological difference under the critique of the trace. This is the crucial passage delivered very early in the seminar:

“The writing that tells stories is easy, narration is easy and philosophy, in spite of appearances, has never deprived itself of it. The point is to break with the philosophical novel, and to break with it radically and not so as to give rise to some new novel. The philosophical novel, philosophical narration, is of course, but is not only, the history of philosophy as doxography that recounts, reports, gathers and lays out the series of philosophical systems. “Telling stories,” in philosophy, is for Heidegger something much more profound and that cannot be so easily denounced as doxography. The Novelesque from which we must awaken is philosophy itself as metaphysics and as onto-theology“. [2]

As it becomes usual throughout the seminar, telling stories is not just an intellectual operation of the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history. The gesture of going beyond storytelling entails an affirmation of the ontological difference. This leap is not to be understood as a way of entry into a higher kingdom of speculation. Rather, it implies an invitation to radically confront history without exceptions or absolutes. In a way, this is the opposite end of philosophical anthropology’s task, which for Blumenberg amounts to a nonconceptual metaphorics capable of man’s self-affirmation against the absolutism of reality.

But I wonder if one could make the case that the deconstructive operation already in the 1964 seminar vis-à-vis the destruction of storytelling opens to a new conception of fiction. It is telling that ‘fiction’ as such is never brought in the seminar. This displacement, however complex and aporetic, should point to a minimal difference between Heideggerian destruction and Derridean deconstruction when it comes to dismantling every effective onto-theological operation. Should one, then, distinguish between storytelling and fiction? For one, if storytelling belongs the realm of the sleepwalking of philosophy and ontology, then it would be productive to think whether the shift after destruction takes place between thinking and fiction. I am still unable to grasp (if it is indeed possible and consistent) if fiction could effectively be understood as an excess of storytelling. It is not a question of form or even truth.  Should fiction point to the distance between politics and infrapolitics in thought? Could we say that infrapolitics is the dissemination of singular fictions announced after the destruction of onto-theological storytelling? Fiction: a non-metaphorical essence over existence after the end of metaphoric translation.

A negation of fiction puts us in a position of anomy. Here the fiction of law is a productive site for thought, because it is a discipline in which we find that fiction (fictio) is an operation that organizes and brings about a nebulous domain. According to Yan Thomas, who is arguably the central scholar on the fictive nature of Roman law: “The fictio is, from the point of view of Western history, without precedent. It only arrives as an operation of law to fix and keep within its boundaries the limits of reality, and the possible distances that it could trace with the fictive Nature” [3]. Roman law’s artificiality is a second-degree fiction that can no longer represent the state of things, but only the ‘as if’ of every probable manifestation. Fiction is always double, aware and checking its own artificiality. Agamben has appropriated Yan Thomas’ hermeneutical notion of ‘operations of law’ in an opportunity to ‘render inoperative’ the ‘politico-theological machine’ of Western governance. But this non-contained negation of principles speaks to Agamben’s anarchy, which differs from Derrida’s democracy to come. Later on in his life Derrida will establish a coterminous relation between fiction and justice as hyperbolic conditions of democracy.

I think an important moment appears in Rogues, where Derrida endorses a notion of democracy in possession of an “essential historicity” [sic] well beyond the subject and natural rights. Derrida also seems to be grappling with an evolving and transformative notion of democracy that cannot be subsumed either as vulgar historical as principle (arche) nor as reversed impolitical an-archy. One cannot evade history, but can one evade the fiction of democracy?

Back to the seminar. At the very end of the last session, Derrida reasserts that “it is not a matter of substituting one metaphor for another, which is the very movement of language and history, but of thinking this movement as such, thinking metaphor in metaphorizing as such, thinking the essence of metaphor (this is all Heidegger wants to do). There is thinking every time that this gesture occurs, in what is called science, poetry, metaphysics, and so on.” (Derrida 190).

So fiction cannot amount to a mere substitution for storytelling. Fiction should name the process of uncontained de-metaphorization within an evolving economy of democracy that has no political arche. The end of philosophical storytelling will open to a contamination of the turbulence of fiction by which the legal operation is always insufficient, but never deposed. The shift from the absolutist negation of the Roman fictio (the political as roman ratio according to the Parmenides lecture) to democracy as an essential historicity, retreats politics in the shadow of fiction. Couldn’t we say, assuming all the risks involved, that infrapolitics is also a reflection on the nature of fiction as a condition for democratic reinvention?





  1. Reiner Schürmann. “The One: Substance or Function”. Neoplatonism and Nature (ed. Michael F. Wagner). State University of New York Press, 2002.
  2. Jacques Derrida. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  3. Yan Thomas. “Fictio legis. L’empire de la fiction romaine et ses limites médiévales”, Droits, no 21, 1995.

The Counter-Overflowing.  A Commentary on (the First Half of) Jacques Derrida’s  Théorie et pratique.  Cours de l’ENS-Ulm 1975-76 (Paris: Galilée, 2017). Draft for Discussion,Transformative Thinking Workshop, U of Michigan, Sept 29-30, 2017.


“Faut le faire/ca me regarde” (37).

(At two points in Théorie et pratique Derrida mentions the “ambiguous homage” Heidegger renders Marx in “Letter on Humanism” by saying that Marx “recognizes historicity in the essence of being” [106-07]. This seems to me the common link between the 1964-65 seminar on Heidegger and the question of being and history and the 1975-76 seminar I will be discussing. I will only have time to make a summary presentation of the later seminar, I am afraid, but I wanted to make sure we had this on the table for our discussion. On the basis of the 1975-76 seminar, one could hypothesize that Derrida’s interest in the question of history in the earlier seminar was already deeply inflected by a desire to take a critical position regarding Marxism from a certain Heideggerianism.   Except that it was Hegel, of course, in the 1964-65 seminar, who stood in for Marx and the Marxists. In any case, the “ambiguous homage” to Marxism Derrida takes on for himself is not decisive in the 1975-76 seminar, and it is for the most part limited to a repetition of the Heideggerian critique. Or is there more? Is there a third position? The question can only be prepared. I will not have the time to pursue it over the next half an hour in Sessions Six through Nine, although we can refer to them in discussion. I will limit myself to preparing it through an analysis of Sessions One through Five, although we may already anticipate: perhaps Sessions Six through Nine are only preparatory as well, perhaps they do not solve anything, do not settle anything. Can we–we ourselves, forty years later–remain within the confines and restraints of such a preparation? Or do we need a breakthrough? Some breakthrough, some new air?) 

One gets the impression at times that the 1975-76 seminar was not conceived as anything but a pedagogical enterprise–it really was a matter of letting the students know something that Derrida had established for himself long before, and where there wasn’t a lot of room for further discoveries.   This is no 1964-65 seminar, where a genuine Auseinandersetzung with Heidegger took place and where an astonishing blueprint for thinking that it would take Derrida years to turn into extensive writing was developed.   Here, in the 1975-76 seminar on Althusser, it is more a matter of recognizing the specificity of the Althusserian take on a Marxism that could not take flight from its roots in Hegelian productionism, which seemed to condemn it to endless variations on the metaphysical theme of the production of the subject or the subject as production, to examine the Heideggerian critique of it avant la lettre, and then to come to terms with the Heideggerian critique itself. One can perhaps argue that this seminar is at the genealogy of Derrida’s 1992 Spectres de Marx, but, I think, only in a very general and secondary sense. Obviously Derrida had thought enough about Marxism and the Marxists and about Marxist politics many times, like everyone in his generation, but he never was particularly interested. Yes, he was politically on the left, which meant he did not want necessarily to overdo the critique of his Marxist friends, including Althusser.   But he truly was not particularly interested. I think that does show in the 1975-76 seminar. The question is whether there is anything else that should excite us.

In my reading, the first session, playful in its use of the French expression “faut le faire,” can already barely hide an impatience with it, with the possibly arrogant demand that translates politically into possibly dangerous idiocy every time, but is nevertheless a staple of the Althusserian Marxists who were dominant in his Academic milieu and, at that time, possibly in Marxist milieus everywhere in the West.   In the seminar, it introduces the theory-practice opposition that will be the ostensible focus of the seminar.   Sessions Two through Five develop an analysis of it through the study of powerful inversions and counterinversions of the opposition in the work of Louis Althusser. But the analysis culminates, perhaps predictably, in the confrontation with Martin Heidegger’s notion of technology, on the basis of the 1947 “Letter on Humanism” and “Science and Reflection” and “The Question of Technology” (1953) in particular. Sessions Six through Nine are of uneven quality in the way they have come down to us, hard to read or at least hard to follow, but they are entirely consumed in a continuation of the reading of Heidegger’s essays on technology.   (I will not have the time to treat those in this paper, but perhaps in the discussion we can look at them to see whether something new in or for the Derridean approach emerges there.)

Il faut le faire: the opposition theory/practice calls for deconstruction. But we are not going to do it as a more or less standard complication and dismantling of what is oppositional in an oppositional logic. Instead, we will look at the specifically philosophical field where the opposition is today prominent. That is, at Marxism. Which always takes its point of departure in this respect from the eleventh of the “Theses on Feuerbach” that show up in Marx’s The German Ideology: “Philosophers have only variously interpreted the world, what matters is to change it.” Or: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” A priority of practice is announced, seems to be announced, or a certain priority of practice–let us change the world, interpreting it is a waste of time, or perhaps interpreting it in various ways is a waste of time. Perhaps, then, this priority of change no longer belongs to philosophy, leaves philosophy behind. Or, alternatively, perhaps this priority of practice is still a philosophical thesis, perhaps the first change is that there is a priority of a practico-theoretical engagement now, or practico-critical, that is, revolutionary philosophy, the new thing.

Derrida says that what matters to him is the following question: “does the last thesis mark the end of philosophy (which would have been contented with interpreting) or does it mark the end of the only philosophy that would have been contented with interpreting, so that what Marx calls forth is still a philosophy, but a practico-revolutionary philosophy, a world-transforming philosophy?” (28-29).   Derrida opts for the latter: taking Marxists at their word, following, for example, Antonio Gramsci and also Louis Althusser, he prefers to accept the notion that Marxist philosophy, that is, dialectical materialism, is still a philosophy and not something else: but a new, practico-revolutionary philosophy. (In this workshop named “Transformative Thinkingwe of course need to come to terms with what transformation might mean for us. There is a discourse on the “trans-” in Théorie et pratique I will not be able to comment on, or perhaps only later.   The crucial thing, it seems to me, is whether transformation is to be taken in the direction of production–one transforms the world through, say, manufacture, through production: is Transformative Thinking Productive Thinking? Or in the direction of an ecstatic trans- that takes us into a new–non-productive–relationship to ex-istence.)[1]

But the question itself–are we within philosophy or in excess of philosophy?–brings up the notion of a philosophical border. Derrida points out that an investigation into the genealogy of this border, in Althusser, will produce “different effects in terms of content, but structurally similar to a different genealogical perspective, namely, the Heideggerian-type text” (32-33).   This is the end of the first session in the seminar, and a certain ambiguity occurs here that should be underlined.   Derrida has just announced that he is going partially to interrogate “Althusser’s systematic trajectory” (32) and he has also said that Althusser’s trajectory will produce effects similar to the trajectory of texts of the Heideggerian type.   And then he says: “to its genealogical purpose, to its general type at least, we shall compare . . . a different purpose, a different perspectival take, a different interpretation . . . of the theory/practice couple” (33). The ambiguity that I want to underline: it is not clear to me whether Derrida is suggesting here that he is going to develop a third genealogical perspective, one to be compared to the Althusserian and to the Heideggerian one, or whether he is simply saying that he will in fact oppose a Heideggerian type of genealogical investigation to the Althusserian one.   In Sessions Six to Nine Derrida will attempt a reading of the Heideggerian texts on technology because those texts incorporate and develop Heidegger’s fundamental critique of Marxism.   Derrida presents that reading as a critical reading. But is the critique strong enough to offer a third position, an alternative reading? Or does the critique remain within a fundamental Heideggerian approach?

In the third session Derrida highlights Althusser’s interest, not so much in the 11th of the Theses on Feuerbach, but rather in the eighth, that is, “All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.” He has already commented on it in the previous session, showing how the notion of rationality in this eighth thesis solicits the apparent priority of the practical in the 11th thesis: if practice solves rational conundrums, then practice still has theoretical ends, practice still serves interpretative goals. It is unavoidable. The whole situation has to be taken on in the right way. Althusser, in fact, says that “there is only one step” between taking the 11th thesis too seriously and falling into a “theoretical pragmatism” (63).

This theoretical pragmatism is the other side of mystical theory. If a theory unrestrained by practice will go into the mystical, theoretical pragmatism is a practice without theory, which amounts to saying: “a practice in the horizon of philosophy’s death” (67). But Althusser’s project is not that. Well to the contrary, his interest in developing Marxist philosophy, or even his interest in turning Marxism into not just a philosophy but philosophy in general, cannot survive within the region of theoretical pragmatism. This is why he calls for “giving a bit of existence and theoretical consistence to Marxist philosophy” (69), where Derrida finds solid confirmation of the fact that Althusser, far from abandoning theory, seeks “a subordination of the philosophical in its totality to a theoretical instance or criterion” (70).   Here are Derrida’s words: “the Marxist philosophical construction must be theoretically consistent, in other words . . . the theoretical instance is the principal instance, the tribunal of last instance to judge the philosophical character of philosophy. The theoretical is no longer an aspect, a side, a determination of philosophy, but the reverse” (69). It does sound as if Marx’s eleventh thesis were completely out of luck.

Derrida salutes the Althusserian take by calling it “a singular and absolutely new displacement . . . in the history of philosophy” (71), because it adds to the traditional or fundamental gesture of regional subordination within a field of knowledge a different one: “This strongly classical gesture is strangely worked over, detoured, turned over, displaced . . . by another one” (71). The new gesture is of course precisely the subordination of the philosophical to the theoretical in the context of an epistemological break, a passage into science, which in itself relegates the totality of the theses on Feuerbach to the border of the break, on the bad side, the side that must be left behind or merely taken over as a historical residue (74).   The “dialectical circle” of Marxist philosophy is construed precisely through the radical theoreticism that confronts practical history as such, and that only Marxism can or could accomplish. Derrida quotes Althusser: “this theory that alone permits an authentic reading of Marx’s texts, a reading at the same time epistemological and historical, is in effect nothing but Marxist philosophy itself” (78).

Theoretical practice in Marxist philosophy is precisely the practical concept of conceptual production, that is, the dialectical determination of a new knowledge that was already previously there in a practical state: “this irreversibly marks the anteriority, the primordiality of practice over theory, of the practical state over the theoretical state, an overflowing anteriority since it announces that theory remains a development of practice, a kind of practice, theoretical practice insofar as it produces knowledges that were already there in the practical state” (83).

Derrida is particularly interested in the way in which a practical state is elaborated or belabored into a theoretical concept. There is a transformation, that is, a production, a manufacture. From matter to product: that is itself practice. Transformation is always production, and production is always human production. Derrida’s seminar reaches at this point its main critical articulation, in my opinion.   This Marxist discourse, says Derrida, “makes of practice (hence of transformative production, or human labor, or human technique) the essential determination of being, of that which is and of that which is to be thought; this discourse does not say ‘that which is essential is the primal matter’ or ‘the product,’ but, as Althusser reminds us, the ‘labor of transformation,’ the transforming production of human technique. From this point of view one understands, in its principle in any case, what Heidegger says of Marxism, and also the perspective he proposes, for example in ‘Letter on Humanism'” (89).

If Heidegger is right that metaphysics is the technical interpretation of truth, then clearly Althusser’s Marxism or Marxism tout court is a metaphysical enterprise. Marxism would be “a humanist metaphysics founded on a technological determination of being as production” (90). There is, Derrida says, another possibility, perhaps, that he, for the moment, will leave unattended, only registered, which is: “whether Marxism does not precisely come to think for the first time that which was involved in [certain] philosophemes (production, technique, humanity, labor, etc. and to articulate the possibilities of these philosophemes, so as to render account of metaphysics as technological humanism rather than to let itself be understood as such, and to render account no longer theoretically but rather through a practical, essential transformation, etc.” [91-92]. This is not, cannot be, an anticipation of the results of Specters, but it is perhaps what in 1975-76 Derrida thought it was possible for him to do. It seems to me the idea of what is possible in 1975-76 is more philosophically ambitious, from the perspective of Marxism, than what Derrida ended up doing, where quod erat demonstrandum is far from demonstrated, or even no attempt is offered.

Derrida had already quoted Heidegger in the fourth session to the effect that the emphasis on materialism in Marxist philosophy had little to do with matter vs. spirit and was much more interested in material labor, that is, in the essence of labor as the “self-organizing process of unconditioned production, that is, as the objectivation of the real by man, himself experienced as subjectivity” (Heidegger, quoted by Derrida 91). Now, in the fifth session, Derrida will refer to “the secular struggle between idealism and materialism” (103) as the crux of the Marxist redefinition of philosophy, which is also the determination of Marxist philosophy as philosophy tout court. Marxist philosophy, in the Althusserian sense, engaged as it is in the “dialectical circle,” may claim for itself a reciprocal overflowing of practice by theory and of theory by practice.   This dialectical circle is presumably the mechanism that allows Marxist philosophy to conceive of every philosophy that is not itself as merely idealist. If materialist philosophy must be understood restrictively as class struggle in theory, it is not because other philosophies are not very precisely also class struggle in theory, except that they are on the side of the wrong class, not on the materialist side of the proletariat.

So, Derrida, in this fifth session, announces that he wishes to interrogate the Marxist silence on Heidegger, as he has “no doubt that this non-reading hides the assured certainty that Heidegger is always already understood within ‘the secular struggle’ between idealism and materialism, and that he represents a variation, more or less subtle, unheard-of or overdetermined, of the possibilities of this struggle” (106).   In other words, Derrida wants to examine the Heideggerian critique of Marxism, notwithstanding what he now announces as a project that is not immediate, only eventual, which is “an eventually deconstructive reading of Heidegger and of the questions Heideggers posits to Marxism, on the subject of Marxism and on what Heidegger considers the sense of Marxism” (106). Again: was that the original idea for Specters of Marx? If so, we have to admit that things changed considerably. But is this “eventual deconstruction,” probably never done, of the Heideggerian critique of Marxism what Derrida considered essentially his own position on Marxism?   Can we read Specters of Marx from that perspective and find something there that would confirm this “third position”?

The question is important first because it refers back to the great question of the 1964-65 seminar, namely, whether Heidegger’s understanding of history or historicity marked an epochal break with the Hegelian, (hence also with the Marxist) idea; whether there is a radicality in Heidegger that the Althusserian radicality, still a metaphysical radicality, simply cannot measure up to.   Is Derrida still a thinker of Heideggerian radicality or does he claim for himself a third position? But the question is also important, second, because in my opinion the issue is not just a philological issue in Derridean criticism; rather, it constitutes still today an impasse for us that we must solve. And this is the reason why I wanted to bring these notes here for discussion: can we really thrive in the perplexity regarding whether the Heideggerian critique of Marxism is terminal, in the sense that it marks the need for a new and epochally post-Marxist determination of thinking?   Do we not have the means to decide whether Marxism can be rescued from it? Derrida’s ambiguity is a double ambiguity: he says to the Heideggerian critique something like “yes, but . . . ” “Yes, but . . . ” regarding the critique itself, that is one ambiguity developed in Sessions Six through Nine, not conclusively, though, but also “yes, but . . .” regarding Marxism, second ambiguity which Derrida talks about eventually resolving.   And that, perhaps he did. But we must come to some clarity ourselves. Perhaps the classical place of the ambiguity will become this 1975-76 seminar.   In my opinion, the ambiguity is overdetermined and it should be critiqued.   We need to break out of this epochal impasse which is really the contemporary form of the impasse of what some have called and will continue to call “left Heideggerianism.”   (I do not need to say, but I will, what some of you must have already thought, which is that infrapolitics is already an answer to the issue: but it must be specified.)

If Marxist philosophy postulated an overflowing of philosophy and of the history of philosophy, if Marxist philosophy posits a new philosophy which must be the philosophy, that is, philosophy, then Heidegger does the same: “because there is an enterprise of overflowing of Marxist discourse and its metaphysical space by Heidegger” (106). Derrida calls it: a “counter-overflowing” (106).  This Heideggerian counter-overflowing in the context of the history of philosophy, of the history of thought, is presumably what starts to be critically examined and determined in the sessions that follow session five, and which have come down to us in a less elaborate form than the previous ones, and with less than full clarity (the editors do not explain why, though.)

But is this counter-overflowing not the decisive site of contemporary thought?   Do not call it “left Heideggerianism.”   In the Heideggerian critique of metaphysical productionism the question of an epochal politics is involved, hence the question of the possible relation between politics and thought.   Is that not our question?

Still in the fifth session: “every being, as matter, appears as a relation of production between one subject and another, a humanity and a nature that are fundamentally identical. The ground is then nature as production, the unity of the totality of being as production, whatever the differentiations and the further determinations of this production” (109). The world is an unconditioned and self-organizing process because this production is “the last instance, the ultimate determination of being as nature put into work by human praxis” (109).

Still in the fifth session: “the essence of dialectical materialism cannot be understood without reference to the essence of technology” (109). This is a derivation or a corollary of the Heideggerian analysis of Marxism in “Letter on Humanism,” or even more: this is the Heideggerian fundamental thesis. Dialectical materialism, that is, Marxist philosophy, is a productionism thoroughly subservient to the metaphysical understanding of being and of the being of beings as production. Within this context, the opposition theory-praxis must be rethought all over again: theory is an effect of practice, indeed, a form of praxis, a form of technology as praxis. With this, the pretention of a Marxist philosophy to philosophy as such is contained. Within the Heideggerian machine, Marxist philosophy is nothing but an example–the most contemporary one, maybe–of the old philosophy of metaphysics, of old metaphysics as philosophy.

Towards the end of the session Derrida hints at the questions he will now orient against the Heideggerian text–and of course this is the moment when the possibility of a third position starts to be developed. There are, he says, two types of questions to be addressed to Heidegger here. The first type: is Heidegger’s counter-overflowing a real counteroverflowing, or is it still to be contained? In other words, how can one, or can one, ascertain the Heideggerian pretension to a real difference from metaphysics as a thinking of technique, as a productionism that is consummated in Marxist thinking through the notion that the being of beings is the being of production, which radically involves human subjectivity? The second question: if the Heideggerian critique of contemporary philosophy, in the form of Marxism, condemns it to being a follower of a certain reactive deviation from an origin, the follower of a conception of truth that obscures a more primal meaning that we must now recover, how is this return to the origin not simply another metaphysical ruse?   The two questions are really one question only, and they are well-known, they are in a sense the questions, or they are the question, Derrida always addresses to Heidegger, namely, is your pretension to a radical recovery of historicity as being, of being as historicity, anything but a pretension? Is it fake? Can we trust it?

(Second part of this, an analysis of sessions five to nine of the seminar, to follow. But there is no way we may have time to discuss everything now.)[2]


[1]  [Add note on Derrida’s “trans-“]

[2]   [Add notes on that, eventually finish paper]

A Note on Slavoj Zizek’s “The Persistence of Ontological Difference.”


In the face of so many portentous denunciations of Heidegger’s evil work, and without diminishing the import of the historical fact that Heidegger did indeed take on pro-Nazi, and hyper-Nazi, and anti-Semitic, and racialized positions (does not much matter that Heidegger’s racism may have been metaphysical rather than biological), it is refreshing to come across Slavoj Zizek’s “The Persistence of Ontological Difference” (in Andrew J. Mitchell and Peter Trawny eds., Heidegger’s Black Notebooks. Responses to Anti-Semitism, New York: Columbia UP, 2017, 186-200).   Zizek does not want to engage in moralistic casuistry on one side or the other. His question is rather whether Heidegger is an important thinker that merits study today (“one should insist that he is a true philosophical classic” [191]), in spite of his multiple errors of many kinds but also even in spite of whatever may be threatening today about his intelligence. It is of course rumored that Zizek initiated his thinking life with a certain enthusiasm for Heidegger, but those rumors will remain unsubstantiated for those of us who cannot read Slovene. In any case, it has been clear for years that, at a certain point, Zizek preferred to take on Hegel as the lasting target of his personal magnification (although he has never come to terms, to my knowledge, with the Heideggerian critique of Hegelianism, which has to do, in a nutshell, with the all-dominant emphasis on the experience of self-consciousness and on self-consciousness as experience as end of history, which Heidegger dismissed as so much clumsy delusion. Perhaps an emphasis on political agency, and insofar as we fail to change our own general or civilizational perspective on politics, no matter how much it has failed us already, requires a willful blindness vis-a-vis that kind of critique.) From Zizek’s therefore partial but significant rescue I simply want to rescue, in this brief note, what seems to me more relevant and astute in “The Persistence of the Ontological Difference.”

Let me start at the very end, and not just the end of the paper, but the final footnote of it: “Ontological difference is, from our perspective, the very difference between the existing multiplicity of entities and the barred One: the One is barred, it doesn’t exist, but the very void of its inexistence opens up the space for entities to arise. The illusion of metaphysics–the ‘forgetting’ of the ontological difference, as Heidegger would have put it–is to obliterate the bar that makes the One inexistent, i.e., to elevate the One into the highest entity” (225).   One could be forgiven for concluding that Zizek is too quick to take the forgetting of the ontological difference into the region of onto-theology, as if it were easiest to understand Being as God.   In that reading, the ontological difference would be merely some reaction to the Nietzschean, but perhaps already Hegelian, dictum concerning the “death” of God that comes to certify its non-existence. The Ex-istence of the One would have to be suppressed for an Ex-isting Multiplicity to arise, and in the same way perhaps an Ex-isting Multiplicity could be suppressed, and then the One would come into Ex-istence. Anybody could then be either a conditional monotheist or an equally conditional materialist atheist or both, depending upon perspective and a specific determination of ecstatic temporality–this could in fact be a more or less adequate reading of historical Hegelianism, even.

But that may be a poor reading of what Zizek meant to offer with his definition of ontological difference. What if, for example, the transcendental or radically subjectivist position were meant to stand in for the One? And is this not the Hegelian Absolute Knowledge as such, where substance is subject and subject is substance? The Barred Subject then creates space for objectivity, as actually ex-isting multiplicity, even as objectivity also creates space for the Barred Subject and for the Subject as Barred.  But even this could also constitute only a partial and therefore inadequate reading of what Zizek is proposing. It could be countered with an intriguing affirmation from Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (that Zizek does not quote): “The ecstatic character that is attributed to everything ‘existential’ makes impossible from top to bottom every effort to conjoin an essentially subjectivistic ‘illumination of existence’ and the ‘existential analytic,’ which pertains solely to the question of being” (quoted by David Farrell Krell, Ecstasy, Catastrophe, Albany: SUNY P, 2015, 129).   If we take out of the equation any kind of subjectivistic interference in the understanding of the ontological difference, then issues of relative existence or belief in existence or illusions of existence become moot for its determination. We no longer care whether the big Other exists or not, etcetera.

There is perhaps a better definition of ontological difference in Zizek’s text, but let us preface it by quoting the heart of Zizek’s Heideggerian defense.   For him the attack on Heidegger is today not really, or not primarily, an attack on Heidegger and certainly not an attack on right Heideggerians or whoever out there is today pro-Nazi, hyper-Nazi, or anti-Semitic. It is, much more pedestrianly, an attack on left Heideggerians, or on people imagined to claim that tag for themselves, as an attack on theory. I remember when my old colleague Fredric Jameson used to say that all attacks on theory were really only attacks on Marxism–by delegitimizing theory the reactionaries in the US academy really meant to preempt any kind of return of Marxism. It may be a little late in the day to keep making that argument, which is not Zizek’s: rather, “the true stakes of the ongoing attacks on Heidegger” are “to get rid of the ‘French theory’ left by way of imposing on them a guilt by association” (190). With all my respect to those remainders of French theory that do not make recourse to Heidegger and never have, this is obvious code for deconstruction. Attacks on Heidegger today are functionally and politically attacks on deconstruction, even more, attacks on the people who claim the legacy of deconstruction, since it is not so simple to separate the dancer from the dance.   And why is that? Zizek’s answer is somewhat complicated, and it seems to me he claims too much in it:

“But the ultimate target is here a tendency within critical theory itself: the theoretical complex called “dialectics of Enlightenment,” with its basic premise according to which the horrors of the twentieth century (Holocaust, concentration camps, etc.) are not remainders of some barbaric past but the outcome of the immanent antagonisms of the project of Enlightenment. For Habermasians, such a premise is wrong: the horrors of the twentieth century are not immanent to the project of Enlightenment but an indication that this project is unfinished . . . We should make one step further here and recognize in this opposition between Enlightenment as an unfinished project and the dialectic of Enlightenment the opposition between Kant and Hegel: between Kantian progress and the Hegelian dialectic of immanent antagonisms” (190-91)

The unfortunate “Habermasians” stand in for those who still believe today that modernity is an unblemished, if unfinished, project for planetary mankind. Not Heidegger, and certainly not Adorno and Horkheimer, but, and this is where it gets a little excessive perhaps, not the Hegelians either!   And presumably including the Marxists. How is it possible to argue that all of those who believe in the “Hegelian dialectic of immanent antagonisms” also necessarily believe that modernity’s contradictions lead to an impasse? Is deconstruction the target of anti-Heideggerianism or is it still Marxism, even if it is a reconstructed and sui generis Marxism? Can Zizek, after all, stand in for the left Heideggerians?

Perhaps the crucial section of Zizek’s essay is the one entitled “Against the Univocity of Being,” whose hero is, paradoxically, Spinoza. Zizek will want to make an argument for infinite multiplicity, which is not necessarily what one associates with the marrano thinker. The key twist is the following: one is led to assuming or affirming a multiplicity of being in the same way that some people still believe it is forbidden to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil: “deficiency of knowledge” (193).   One does not know enough, and one confuses as the law or as an ethical duty what, from a larger perspective, is no more than a piece of advice or a cautionary word like “don’t cross the road unless you see a green light.”   Spinoza wanted to think a univocal Being opposed to Aristotelian ontology (where being is said in multiple ways) in order to pass from a sense of a universe unified by commands keeping or trying to keep chaos at bay to a universe defined exclusively by its own reality. Zizek’s account–moving towards the ontological difference–sort of turns the Spinozan intuition on its head:

“A is not just not-B, it is also and primarily not fully A, and B emerges to fill in this gap. It is at this level that we should locate ontological difference: reality is partial, incomplete, inconsistent, and the Supreme Being is the illusion imagined in order to fill in (obfuscate) this lack, this void that makes reality non-all. In short, ontological difference–the difference between non-all reality and the void that thwarts it–is obfuscated by the difference between the “highest” or “true” being . . . and its secondary shadows” (194)

But do we not have, again, a tendency to see the ontological difference too much on the side of onto-theology? Being is not another name for the God of theology, not for Heidegger. Whence the insistence? Yes, reality is not all for the human, Dasein cannot experience it in any kind of completeness (which is not structurally the case for the Hegelian Subject of Absolute Knowledge, by the way). But the ontological difference does not posit an illusion coming to compensate for subjective deficiencies!   Zizek is still within an understanding of ontological difference in the Hegelian sense of the difference between beings and the being of beings.   But Heidegger, at a minimum, points elsewhere: towards another difference, and a more decisive one from the point of view of rupturing metaphysics, the difference between being and the being of beings.   Does Zizek ever register it?

I think he does, but perhaps in spite of himself. But he does. This could be a matter of genius. At first, he conflates the Heideggerian ontological difference with the Freudian death-drive and dialectical negativity. We can only say no. It ain’t that. But then, at the end of a substantial engagement with Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound (2007), an anti-Kantian book in a sense, Zizek hits a plausible note or genius breaks through: “[the ontological difference] is beyond any transcendental horizon; it aims at reaching the In-itself. However, the In-itself is not ‘out-there;’ we do not reach it after we subtract from reality our subjective additions; the In-itself is ‘here’ in the very subjective excess to what appears to us as objective reality” (200).   It seems to me this observation, which flatly contradicts the two accounts of the ontological difference that have previously been noted in Zizek’s text (and also above), is on target, and perhaps not absolutely, but certainly in its very difference with the other two accounts. It is a relational definition of the ontological difference which refers to an In-itself perhaps better rendered as an out-there.   In any case, food for thought. Zizek concludes: “Nothing in the Black Notebooks changes the fact that Heidegger’s thought provides a key contribution to our dealing with this ultimate question” (200).











Heidegger and psychoanalysis.

On this issue (but take a look at the previous post) it is interesting to remark what Medard Boss reports about Heidegger’s critique of psychoanalysis, since it is not always noted.  Heidegger says: “Psychoanalysis glimpses from Dasein only the mode of fallenness and its urge.  It posits this constitution as authentically human and objectifies [the human being] with his ‘drives'” (174).  In other words, Heidegger’s contention is that the basic psychoanalytic framework posits an urge, as some kind of bad property of the subject, that makes the subject act out in painful ways.  For Heidegger it is essential to invert the interpretative structure, so that the essential characteristics of being-in-the-world are taken in, and particularly the three ecstases of temporality: not just being-alongside or being-at (Sein-bei), not just Immer-schon-sein as always-already-being, but also being-ahead-of-oneself (sich-vorweg-sein).   I note this critique of psychoanalysis but abstain from opining on whether it is fair for all analysts, or whether psychoanalysis has already worked this out.  My interest refers to infrapolitics, which is a thinking of the always-already to the extent that it is very much a thinking of the ontico-ontological difference.  I suppose, but then I also suppose this supposition is very much a question, that what is “infra-” about infrapolitics is very directly and strongly connected to the always-already structure.  It is nevertheless an essential aspect of the existential analytic that there is no real relation to the always-already that is not at the same time involving the present from a radical consideration of the to-come.  The three temporalizing ecstases are equiprimordial .  So this is the question: if the three emphases are equiprimordial, can it be claimed that a privileged relationship to the always-already, to the particular kind of always-already that both the ontological difference and psychoanalysis must claim for themselves even if in different ways, should be given leeway?

On “philosophical anthropology” and infrapolitics.


(Apologies, because I am posting these comments both here and in the new blog in  The latter site is still very much under construction, so that new blog is accessible to very few people yet.)

In the Zollikon Seminars, in the protocol for November 23, 1965, Heidegger is at pains to distinguish his “analytic of Dasein” from any kind of “Daseinanalysis,” because the first is only to be said in reference to ontological structures, whereas the second refers to ontic phenomena.  Daseinanalysis has to do with the therapeutic situation, for instance.  It is ontic behavior.  This could have been expected.  What is rather interesting, for a Heidegger who would usually apparently refuse to make any concessions to the ontic, is his concluding comment: “The decisive point is that the particular phenomena, arising in the relationship between the analysand and the analyst, and belonging to the respective, concrete patient, be broached in their own phenomenological content and not simply be classified globally under existentialia” (124).  The decisive point then would be that in the therapeutic situation it is not the analytic of Dasein that counts–one must make obvious recourse to existentiell modes of relation, and thinking, and action.  The analytic of Dasein can only orient, more or less resolutely, such existentiell modes, but there is a specific style of behavior which is radically concrete, attentive to the phenomena at hand, and irreducibly so.   Such a style of behavior needs to be exercised in the therapeutic situation, or the teaching situation, or the hermeneutic situation, etc.  Infrapolitics should be nothing but a (ceaseless) meditation on the implications of such concrete encounters in the always-already (as opposed to either constant ontological [theoretical] talk or the triviality of opinion-making from ideological positions, whether political, ethical, or aesthetic, which is all the humanities seem to dare propose today.)  Needless to say, that ceaseless meditation, if done appropriately, would change everything also for the trivial opinion-makers.

In the November 26,1965, session Heidegger points, perhaps surprisingly,  in the direction of the elaboration of a “philosophical anthropology” for which “the analytic of Da-sein as an existential-ontological analytic” would not be sufficient.  He then says: “there would have to be an entire future discipline with the task of delineating the demonstrable existentiell phenomena of the sociohistorical and individual Da-sein in the sense of ontic anthropology bearing the stamp of the analytics of Da-sein” (125).   I am not enough of a Heideggerian to know whether this invitation has even been taken up in some quarters or other: the call for a philosophical anthropology enabled by the analytic of Dasein to take up existentiell concreteness, “oriented toward the concrete historical existence of the contemporary human being, that is, toward the existing human being in today’s industrial society” (125-26).  Infrapolitics is at the same time less and more than this: it is less, because it does not have the ambition, nor the desire, to constitute a new discipline, or a new disciplinary modality within anthropology; it is more because it has the arrogance of claiming for itself a new field of reflection, based, certainly, on the existential analytics, but in no way limited to what Heidegger calls “existentialia.”