Friday, February 22, 2013

Excerpts from Reiner Schürmann’s Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy

I’ve been needling some of my friends and luminaries about ‘rationalism’ lately. I don’t set out to pick fights – obviously if my intent was to demonstrate Paul Levi Bryant, Jarius Victor Grove, Nick Srnicek, Reza, Robin or Nina Power somehow ‘wrong,’ well, any one of those philosophical gorillas could decimate me.

No, I am not as intelligent as you are.

Fitting: all I can offer in response to a sea of rationalists is conceived on the basis of scholarship and empirical consideration, not on the basis of my own intelligence – which is indeed quite limited. My intention is not to intimate that it is unintelligent to comport oneself rationally, but rather to note that there is a textual lineage that would advocate that we not privilege reason, and hence my intention is really to try to provoke response about empirical considerations from precisely each of those figures, those who I regard as intelligent (including Benedict and Alex, even if they don’t feel the same towards me). This is why I don’t mind taking a few on the chin from MacKay, as the sentiment: ‘provoke better, that won’t cut it,’ is appreciated, no matter how coded it may be.

Therefore, so as to offer something of textual substance – [something less flaccid] – I spent the night transcribing the origins of my empirically anarchic predilections – Reiner Schürmann’s Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy – introduced as it was to me by my supervisor at UVic, Peyman Vahabzadeh.

Interestingly, Schürmann is New School alum so it’s at least a little bit pitting old-school New School against new-school New School.

The sections I’ve typed up here for general considerations are:

‘Understanding History Through Its Reversals’
‘The Puma Shaped City’
‘The Rise and Decline of Principles’

Enjoy = )


Understanding History Through Its Reversals

When the turning comes to pass in the
danger, this can only happen abruptly.

– The Turning

As an epoch comes to an end, its principle withers away. The principle of an epoch gives it cohesion, a coherence which, for a time, holds unchallenged. At the end of an epoch, however, it becomes possible to question such coherence. In withering away, the supreme referent of an age becomes problematic. As long as its economy dominates, and as long as its order disposes the paths that life and thought follow, one speaks otherwise than when its hold loosens, giving way to the establishment of a new order. The principle of an epoch is a matter both of knowing and of acting; it is both the principium, the foundation that provides reasons, and the princeps, the authority that dispenses justice. The justificatory reasons of an epoch has its time: it establishes itself, reigns, and eventually founders. Its rise, the regime it imposes, and then its peril show that it is essentially precarious. Ultimate reasons are unquestionable, but only temporarily so. They have their genealogy and their necrology. They are epochal. They establish themselves without a blueprint and collapse without warning. Thus, the principle of an epoch rules over it; but such a principle, too, has a beginning. Its birth, its archē, occurs in the crisis of history. Understood in terms of epochal history, the origin appears to be plural: archē, insofar as it designates that which begins and rules an epoch; princeps-principium inasmuch as it functions as its foundation and its authority; finally, the arising or coming forth, Ursprung, itself, by which an entity enters into presence within any given epochal order.

It is possible to draw up the genealogy of epochal principles? And will such a genealogy allow one to oppose the reversals in history (Wenden) to one single turning (die Kehre) in which the lineage of these principles itself comes to an end? When the habitat which has transitorily become ours decays and falls, questions previously unheard of, questions hitherto incapable of being asked, surged forth: if such is its end, what might its origin have been? But in the reversals of history the origin of the field in which the most familiar things appear shows itself to be complex – archē, princeps-principium, and Ursprung. As to the breaks or transitions, some are mere passages from one epoch to the next, while the other – the one other crisis – is the unmediated egress, ‘in the danger,’ from epochal history as such.

The Puma-Shaped City

The principia occupy the first place, stand in a row. The principia refer to a series and an order. . . We observe them without meditating.

– Der Satz vom Grund

The fortress, encircled by three concentric walls, overhangs the city. The ramparts forming the palisade are built into a zigzag design. They are constructed of granite polygonal stones, some up to thirty feet high and weighing three hundred tons. An esplanade, where the troups were reviewed, extends from one side of the fortress. On the other side the terrain falls abruptly to the roofs of the capital. The descent is made by precipitous trails. The oxygen is rarified, breathing is difficult. At this altitude almost nothing grows except steppe grass and some shrubs. Terrace cultures subsist on other slopes. The city is encased between two mountain ranges which rise to twenty thousand feet. Formerly the houses were made of adobe and covered with straw, later they were built of regularly cut stone. The buildings stretch without much order around a vast plaza that resembles two trapezoids adjoining their smaller bases. This plaza is said to have been filled with life-sized animals made of solid gold and silver. It is also reported that a hundred llamas were sacrificed each month. Apparently this plaza was much too spacious for the commercial needs of the natives, and this city lacked ordinary markets and afforded housing only for priests. It abounded however in lodgings for pilgrims. When seen from the surrounding slopes the fortress and the city describe with clear outline of an animal: the great arteries of Cuzco, together with the Tullumayo River, form the body, and the Sacsayhuaman fortress, the head of a puma.

Cuzco bears its principle inscribed within it. Given the absence of commercial areas and the hypertrophy of governmental and ceremonial monuments, its principle leaps out at the eye: the centralization of the Inca empire under the domination of the class symbolized by the Puma. ‘Cuzco’ means navel, and ‘Inca’ is the name of the ruling class. It can also designate the leader of that class, the emperor. His insigne is the puma. It represents the principle in its function as authority, princeps. Paved roads ran from the central plaza, following the ridge lines. Along them couriers transmitted the summonses, directives, decrees, and verdicts as far as what is today Argentina, to the south, and Quito, to the north. The principle of the Inca system made it possible to subject heteroclite tribes to the central power. Across the one-time empire, urbanism still testifies to this autocracy. Throughout the conquered provinces, plazas similar to that at Cuzco were used for celebrations, the administration of justice, the call to arms, and payments of tribute. Towns seem to have been conceived less as conglomerations of dwellings than as relays of power for the central authority, and the people were considered above all as manual labor, detachable according to the requirements of the rational organization of the economy.

But what is the principle of intelligibility, the principum, of this, the most centralized empire ever? The population, the animals, the labor, the soil itself, were parceled into decimal units. The cacique of ten heads of families oversaw the agricultural work and distributed the provisions. Other duties were incumbent upon the leaders of fifty, one hundred, five hundred, one thousand, and ten thousand families. The ages were grouped into units of ten. The public officials, recognizable by ear perforations that varied according to their rank, constituted cells of ten. The corps of craftsmen, the plots of land, even the sexes were organized in the same way. According to the chronicle of Huaman Poma, who claimed to have been the grandson of the Inca Tupac Yupanqui, there were ten groups of men and ten groups of women. For the pleasure of it I quote in extenso:

1.       Auca camayoc. The Warriors, or more precisely, those who could be mobilized. The whole male population from twenty-five to fifty.

2.       Puric macho. From fifty to eighty years. Servants of the noblemen, carrying out light duties.

3.       Rocto macho. From eighty to one hundred years and over. ‘Old men hard of hearing, only able to eat and sleep, plait ropes and raise rabbits and ducks.’ But they were feared and honoured because of their sharp tongues.

4.       Unoc runa. The sick, deaf, dumb, blind, hunchbacked, dwarfs, and maimed. They gave what service they could and ‘were the butts of the rest.’

5.       Sava panac. From eighteen to twenty years. They carried the messages and tended to the herds. Practiced poverty and abstinence, and were not entitled to women.

6.       Macta cona. From twelve to eighteen years. They kept the flocks, caught birds with a net and offered the feathers to the curaca.

7.       Tocilacoc namracona. From nine to twelve years. They protected the small birds, sown seeds and harvests.

8.       Pucllacoc namracona. ‘Those who play,’ from five to nine years. Their favourite toy was a spinning top, but it was agreed that they should be ‘taught and punished for the good of the realm.’

9.       Llullo vamracona. From first steps to five years. The law permitted parents two years to care for their children, to enjoy them, and to ‘save them from falling or being burned.’

10.   Uaua quiro-picac. Infants in the cradle.

The women’s classification was in line with the men’s:

1.       Auca camayoc pa varmi. The warrior’s wife. In between times she wove cloth for garments.

2.       Pavacona. They wove cloth and cooked. Chastity was enforced on widows of a certain age.

3.       Punoc paya. They helped to bring up the children if they had the strength.

4.       Uncoc cumo. The cripples. They married other cripples. Dwarfs married dwarfs, blind married blind, and so on.

5.       Cipascona. Young girls for marriage. These were destined for the temple of the Sun, for the king, for the chiefs and warriors, according to a method of division drawn up by officals of the Empire. ‘No one could choose a wife according to his own wishes.’ Any infraction of this rule was punished by death. The age limit for marriage was fixed at thirty years.

6.       Corotasque. ‘The little shavelings.’ With short skirts and bare feet, they learned to cook, to spin and weave. They prepared the fermented drink, chichi. They were forbidden ‘to know the woman or man on pain of death.’ They were depilated.

7.       Pauau pallac. ‘The little girls who gathered flowers.’ They also helped their parents.

8.       Pucllacoc varmi namra. ‘The little girls who played as they went.’ They looked after their little brothers and fetched water for cooking.

9.       Llucas varmi vana. ‘Those learning to walk.’

10.   Chillo vana varmi quiraupicac. As we say, babies.

What is remarkable in these two lists is the ease with which their thoroughness accommodates the arbitrary. The number ten, imposed on all conceivable matters, was the delight and strength of the empire. The architectonic of the Inca system allowed for the subjection of tribes, for equal allocation of food supplies, for public works like the transportation of monoliths for distances of over two thousand miles. It can still be perceived today in the Peruvian vestimentary codes, especially in the type of hats. The headgear indicated the clan of provenance so that the social position of each was exposed to the eyes of all.

The archē, as the ‘beginning’ of this system, was the grandiose imperial project devised by the first Inca, Pachacuti (or, according to the legend, the birth of Manco Capac and of his sister and wife, Mama Ocllo, from the waters of Lake Titicaca). The archē, understood as ‘rule,’ was the autocracy. The principle of this civilization is also apparent: as the first in the order of authority, the princeps was the political apparatus with the supreme cacique exercising vertical control at its head; as the first in the order of intelligibility or rationality, the principium was the decimal system. Every detail of daily life was subject to arithmetic laws for the sake of pacification, expansion, agricultural growth, defense, public works. The Inca empire could be pan-Andean because it was a system, a pyramid with a decagonal base. The origin of the system, ‘origin’ both as archē and as princeps-principium, allows one to understand this society and its achievements.

And yet we must admit that we understand almost nothing about it. This is not due solely to the absence of writing in Inca civilization. Archē and principle do not tell everything about the origins, not the entire origin. They do not allow us to understand how things entered into presence in everyday experience. The origin both as archē and as principle conceals presencing. How did things come to presence, how did they appear, before the arrival of the conquistadors? That is what will forever escape us. Everything that is not told about the rise of the Inca civilization once its conquests, its superb usage of the decimal system, its disdain for the particular and the individual have been described. Another type of arising remains to be understood, the uprise as coming forth to presence, as presencing: the origin as Ursprung.

In the order of authority as in the order of intelligibility, principles occupy the first rank in the field opened to an epoch. These principles lay out the paths to be assumed by the course of exploitations and then discourse of explications. As such they are observed without question in a given epoch. When questions are raised about principles, the network of exchange that they have opened sometimes becomes confused, and the order that they have founded declines. A principle has its rise, its period of reign, and its ruin. Its death usually takes disproportionately more time than its reign.

As to presencing, it requires a type of thought other than that which traces the reversals of historical principles. We observe the principles unwittingly, without meditation (‘ohne Besinnung’). The turning in history at which the origin manifests itself as presencing may require a comparable turning in the way of thinking. And perhaps this new Denkungsart, the phenomenology of presencing, will teach us something about the manifold origin of epochal principles, as Nietzsche’s new mode of thinking taught us something about ‘the origin of our moral prejudices.’ The difficulty encountered in the genealogy of principles stems from its scope. It will have to decipher much more than ‘the hieroglyphic script of men’s moral past.’ The genealogies of morals, the scientific mind, of the democratic ideal, ect., will all be only instantiations of the genealogy of epochal principles.

The Rise and Decline of Principles

In the history of Western thought, which began in the sixth century B.C., 2,300 years
were required before the familiar representation, ‘nothing is without reason,’
was expressly posed as a principle and known
as a law. . . until the present day we have
hardly mediated on the phenomenon that this little phrase required such an
extraordinarily long period of incubation.

– Der Satz vom Grund

Is a principle not something that inspires awe, something that is recognized as prevailing against all historical contingencies? Is it not ‘worthy’ ἅἑἱoς – an axiom, therefore – because untouchable by chance? On the contrary, with Heidegger, we still have to speak of the establishment of a principle, its establishment of a principle, its establishment in the double sense of its founding at the beginning of an epoch and of its reign during that epoch. We will now have to think the archē of a principle as its beginning and its rule. An epoch will have to be viewed as determined by a code that is unique every time – not a convention, but a law of regional application, in the sense in which the French speak of the code de la route. The instatement of a code to the rank of principle opens up a field of intelligibility. It establishes a first, a reference. This code regulates the ‘establishment’ of a regional or epochal order in the sense of putting it in place, and it regulates its ‘establishment’ in the sense of an institution of public utility, of a regime. Thus the little phrase ‘nothing is without reason’ attains to such a principle rank at the beginning of the modern era after a long period of incubation. This accession of the so-called principle of sufficient reason is reputed to ‘occupy the first place, to stand in the first row.’ To think is to render reason, rationem reddere, and to act is to impose rationality upon nature. Retrospectively, we understand an epoch as the opening, by such accession and estimation, of a bygone field of presencing.

The establishment of a principle is its institution at the beginning of the period for which it will serve as ultimate point of reference, of recourse, thus dominating that era. Such a first becomes thinkable however only when its grip begins to loosen. The establishments bequeathed us are talked about and questioned as they collapse, so that we know history primarily by its reversals.

The reversals of history are what makes it intelligible. The focus that an epoch ranks supreme – the code that holds together the activities and the words in which it recognizes itself – comes into sight in the crises that are fatal to its rule. What is held to be the ultimate in a given age thus enters the critical-genealogical discourse once its law is overturned. The reversals of history are its ‘crises’ in the full sense of the word: they ‘separate’ one epoch from another. Properly speaking, they are the crises of each principle which for a while establishes a given civilization in a finite field where it can attend to its needs. Access to these fields will be gained through the phenomenology of the reversals of history.

The point of impact of such phenomenology does not lie, however, in the past. Indeed, if the reversals of history are best circumscribed by the retreat of a referent which until then encoded the order of things, then what potential do things, words, and actions yield at those rare moments of interregnum among which our own times may have to be counted? The establishment in which a collectivity abides for a while has its order, but what about the sequence of these establishments? Do the thresholds between epochs have an archē which they rationally articulate? Are they the joints where a Reason can be cognized, a Reason still more reasonable than the order that the phenomenologist reads in the finite clearing of a given culture? Or will these transitions, on the contrary, prove to be bereft of order, literally anarchic.

What we are attempting to understand is the caesura that marks the end of the metaphysical epoch. It may well be that in these decades of ours, the principle is reversing that hitherto has managed a long epoch, that therefore as a principle, it becomes thinkable because it is already farther away; and that in this our interstice, an absence reveals itself that is soon forgotten when laws and order obtain without question under the unsuspected dominion of a referent held supreme. It may be that in the divide between one era and the next anarchism appears, the absence of an ultimate reason in the succession of the many principles that have run their course in the West. It may be that as this absence becomes apparent, human practice, notably political action, becomes thinkable in a way that it is not when life and thought obey the order made for them between two reversals.

How can a principle appear transitory? This is the first question to be raised. It concerns the type of analysis that leads to the concept of anarchy. Analysis will have to be taken literally as the dissolution or dislocation, as the de-construction of the edifices of intelligibility transmitted to us. It will also have to be shown how this analysis, this genealogy of the formation of economies of presence, is phenomenological (Part II). The difference between presence and presencing, with which I have already been working, will then have to be drawn for its own sake.

Next, the three senses of origin – archē, princeps-principium, Ursprung – will have to be disentangled (Part III). A concrete sequence of epochal principles will thus pass before the phenomenological gaze, the sequence wherein the era of representation gives way to that consciousness, then to nihilism, then to technology, to speak only of the modern age.

That sequence of principles will furthermore have to be interrogated according to its inner conditions. If it can be read prospectively, onward from a certain datable turn in antiquity, as well as retrospectively, backwards from another turn which is also datable and equally decisive, what is the status of identity and difference in history? That status will prove to be categorical (Part IV).

The terms in which the question of acting can be raised will finally prove to be the very terms of the ‘question of being.’ The two questions can only be solved as one (Part V). How is their conjunction possible? Both being and acting – more generally, practice – are understood by the later Heidegger through what he calls ‘the turning.’ The inquiry I am attempting into what Heidegger may have to teach us about politics in particular would condemn itself to outright failure if its access were sought elsewhere than in the phenomenon he calls die Kehre. However, since this concept lends itself to mystification, its clarification must be attempted first. Unless the phenomenon it designates is recognized, one would not even be able to examine the fate the question ‘what is to be done?’ suffers at the end of metaphysics, let alone to ask: what is to be done at the end of metaphyics?”[1]

[1] Reiner Schürmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy tr. Christine-Marie Gros (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 25 – 32.

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