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.


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