From the Inceptual to the Inceptual

Alberto Moreiras

Thinking the inceptual is called "essential thinking" in the introduction to Heidegger's 1943 course on Heraclitus, and the essential thinkers are then called "the authentically political" humans, as they care not to forget about "the extraordinary" in the life of the polis (Heraclitus 22). They are also thinkers of ex-istence, as opposed to per-sistence, as the 1932 lectures on Anaximander and Parmenides make clear (Beginning 70-74). As essential thinkers of ex-istence, inceptual thinkers are important for Heidegger to the extent that they can lead us to what other texts by Heidegger from the late 1930s and early 1940s, particularly the Beiträge zur Philosophie, call "the other beginning," which is a reconfiguration of existence in view of fresh insights I am not sure we should call ontological. I am going to center my comments on only two, well, three punctual aspects of the Heraclitus lectures: I will make a brief reference to the critique of Hegel and then concentrate on Heidegger's reading of harmonía haphanés. But let me give you a little context first.

Almost immediately at the beginning of the 1939 black notebook Heidegger turns his writing toward a critique of politics. He says: "But where in various forms the execution of the power of machination is relegated completely to 'politics,' there it seems as if everything is in essence 'political' and this essence itself the first of all the being of humanity. In truth, however, this complete 'politics' is merely an offshoot transplanted into a purely technological-historiological institutionalizing and only thereby capable of executing a power. Machination retains genuine power all the more securely, the more exclusively the execution of political power considers itself the be-all and end-all." The revolution cannot be political because it would be in the first place a revolution against political machination. It is therefore intriguing, or even striking, that only a few years later Heidegger will call the essential thinkers of the inception the "authentically political" thinkers. Let me then frame my remarks between the Heideggerian rejection of politics as machination and the Heideggerian endorsement of an authentic politics opened to what is extraordinary in the life of the polis. In the passage I just quoted politics becomes the arché, the principle of action: "the first of all the being of humanity." If we are to take Heidegger's move toward an other inception seriously, we must disengage from any residual traces of the politics of machination in order to embrace that enigmatic something that Heidegger refers to as the "authentically political," the extraordinary in the life of the polis. This "authentically political" is nothing other than an attunement to the "decisional domain" (Ponderings 15) where what is decided is "whether the blindness of power (taken not morally, but as an event in the history of beyng) can be experienced as the forgottenness of beying–or whether the human being is deemed worthy by beyng to be installed beyond power and impotence, for the sake of the truth of beyng" (14). To be sure, Heidegger counterposes this to the work of the "existentiell literati" (15) or the "existentiell thinker[s]" (17) of life, who are for Heidegger still "serf[s] of much-extolled life and its praxis" (17), and therefore still serfs of beings. The explicitation of existence is for Heidegger something other than a philosophy of life, but the explicitation of existence is certainly the ongoing, perhaps overwhelming concern of Heidegger’s thinking.

The combination of planetary climate change and universal surveillance, which is another name for artificial intelligence, both elements the product of machination, is pressing on all of us to the point of defining the fundamental Stimmung of our age not as astonishment, as in the first inception, but as terror, becoming clearer by the day. The reality of Heideggerian Ge-stell is clear and present for everyone, and it is the unavoidable horizon of our thinking, even of our existing. The word "horizon" is defined by the Oxford dictionary as "the line at which the earth's surface and the sky appear to meet" and as "the limit of a person's mental perception, experience, or interest." Etymologically the word comes from the Greek horidson kyklos, separating circle (or perhaps regioning circle). It thus alludes to a boundary or a landmark. The horizon marks a boundary that cannot be reached, as it keeps moving. Our possible relationship to it, other than just ignoring it, might be given by the Heraclitean word ankhibasie, the ever-approaching, a hapax legomenon in the fragments that Heidegger quotes most prominently in Conversations on a Country Path. The horizon–let me present it clearly as the horizon for an other beginning, even if Heraclitus, in the wake of Anaximander and Parmenides, presents it also as the horizon for the first regioning of the to-be-thought–is a limit, a boundary: it establishes the difference between earth and sky, perhaps also the difference between mortals and divinities, and it is also the absolute limit of our perception. We cannot overcome it. We will never get there to the very extent that we are always already there in, as you know, complicated ways. There is to be no willed communion with the horizon. Towards the end of the Heraclitus seminar Heidegger takes the Heraclitean word panton kechorismenon (what “unfolds, in relation to all beings, from out of its (own) region” (Heraclitus 248) to mean being itself. In horidsein lies the chora, the region, the “self-opening, approaching expanse” (251). The horizon, as the surrounding that surrounds, is being as “the regioning presencing in which and from out of which everything presences and absences” (251). As the regioning presencing, the horizon also withdraws. It is what withdraws. It is a limit, and even the site of a rupture: in Heraclitus, “that to which they are most turned in a manner of bearing—namely, the Logos—is precisely that from which they rend themselves asunder” (253).

And yet these would be no excuses for keeping us from getting underway. In the 1939 notebook Heidegger makes a note concerning the difference between "destruction" and "devastation." He says: "Destruction is the precursor of a concealed beginning, but devastation is the aftereffect of an already decided end. Does the age already stand before the decision between destruction and devastation? Yet we know the other beginning–know it in questioning" (Ponderings 3). Those were not trivial words in 1939. It is on us to transfer the very question of their difference to our own predicament, however, and see what we can make of it. We can initially highlight the word "decision"–a decision between destruction and devastation. We know, Heidegger says, something of it. Destruction sends us on the path of a concealed beginning while devastation names a state of affairs after a particular consummation. It would seem fair, to Heidegger and to us, to assume that, regarding destruction and devastation, we can only develop an ankhibasic path. There is never total destruction and there is never total devastation. We move, from devastation, through destruction, or we move from destruction through devastation in the horizonal region. Personally, I can only conceive of this ankhibasic path toward the horizon of an other beginning as an an-archic and marrano path, a fugitive path. Now, as you know, “fugitive,” “an-archic,” and “Marrano” are not terms one finds in the Heideggerian lexicon. Yet I think they are inconsistent with it. (But I have no time to go into this.)

In the 1943 seminar on "The Inception of Occidental Thinking" Heidegger refers to the "presupposition and fundamental experience of Hegelian metaphysics" (Heraclitus 26). He immediately names it: "that the universe cannot withstand the courage of cognition and must open itself to the will for unconditional certain knowledge (i. e., the will for absolute certainty)" (26). A little later he says: "Hegel ... supposes that the entirety of beings is determined through the will to show itself, i.e., the will to step out into appearance. The highest manner of this appearing is accomplished within, and also for, the thinking of metaphysics, provided that it speaks through the appearing essence of the absolute as it shows itself" (31). To that extent we can assume that the entirety of Heidegger's confrontation with Heraclitus is an attempt to regain a foothold beyond the reach of Hegelian metaphysics, which is Hegelian phenomenology, which is the consummation, or one of them, of the metaphysics of modernity. This will to clear certainty, to clarity, is then counterposed to Heraclitus's purported "obscurity." Heraclitus's obscurity is then the manifestation, the symptom, of a relation to world, to the strife of world and earth, where something quite other than a fake "courage of cognition" based on beyng's self-disclosure to the subject is at stake.

Let me now turn, only as a pointer, and again for lack of time, to Heidegger's interpretation of Heraclitus 54, which is for Heidegger the "third fragment" in his own classification. The fragment says: "harmonia haphanes phaneres kreitton," which Heidegger translates as "inconspicuous jointure, more precious than the conjoined that insistently pushes toward appearance" (Heraclitus 108). Heidegger explains that the fragment poses an enigma: "the enigma is this: that physis names at once emerging in distinction to submerging (i.e., physis in its relation to kryptesthai) and also names the unified essence of physis and kryptesthai" (119) where the "inconspicuous jointure," that is, the non-priority of emergence, is defined as kreitton, more precious. At this point Heidegger goes back to Hegel and Hegelian dialectics and suggest that there is a "dialectical-speculative" (119) answer to the enigma. It is this: "Emerging and submerging stand in a relation (namely, a relation of philein). They themselves are the links of the relation: the relata. Physis is now the name for one of the relata and, at the same time, the name for the relation itself" (119). The dialectical-speculative answer would claim that thinking itself has the same structure: "within the relation of the presentation of the object, [thinking] is at one and the same time this relation itself and one of the relata of the relation, specifically the 'I' that, in its representing, relates to the object" (119).

But certainly Heidegger rejects the speculative solution, and in doing so he gives us an indication with which I wish to conclude this presentation: Heidegger's rejection brings up the Parmenidean equation of thinking and being in the latter's well-known verse and he says: "physis is in no way able to be compared with the 'I" and the 'representing I' (and thereby with subjectivity and consciousness), even though this equating in fact takes place when, for example, the famous saying of Parmenides's concerning the relationship between noein and einai is interpreted in terms of the relationship between subject and object, or of consciousness and an object of consciousness" (119). And then he says: "Were we able to say straight away what conceals itself behind the enigma of the essential two-foldness of physis, then we would already have stated the essence of the inception" (119). And understanding the first inception is crucial, for Heidegger, in order to push past it toward another inception of thought, consistent with our historical predicament along the history of beyng.

The enigma of physis has to do with the inconspicuousness of the extraordinary, that is, with the self-withdrawal of the extraordinary as it makes space, indeed, as it creates in kosmos the timespace for the ordinary, which is the priority of beings. We know little about the difference between the first and the second inception but we already know this much: the priority of beings over beyng, which was already on the way to logical self-assertion in the thinking of the thinkers of the first inception, unleashes the metaphysical destiny of the West and its concurring planetary devastation in the wake of Machenschaft. Destruction traces the ankhibasic path toward the horizon through the recovery of a decisional domain against machination which, as such, cannot stop with the encounter of the "essence of the [first] inception." I think Heidegger intimated strangely the path when he said, again in the 1930 black notebook: "Beyng, as the abyssal 'in-between' of the enduring of the encounter [between gods and humans] and strife [between earth and world], powerlessly (outside of power and impotence) disposes human history. This type of thinking is sovereignty and decision" (Ponderings 18). An-archic decision, fugitive step that can only approach as it distances.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. The Beginning of Western Philosophy. Interpretations of Anaximander and Parmenides. Translated by Richard Rojcewicz. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2015.

—. Heraclitus. The Inception of Occidental Thinking and Logic: Heraclitus' Doctrine of the Logos. Translated by Julia Goesser Assaiante and S. Montgomery Ewegen. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

—. Ponderings XII-XV. Black Notebooks 1939-1941. Translated by Richard Rojcewicz. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2017.

Alberto Moreiras - From the Inceptual to the Inceptual
Presentation at Heidegger Circle Meeting, Boston, May 2023