Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Has Already Been Lost In Space? (Part 1)

Commenting on our last consideration of the problem of the definition of space (after taking the time to apply some warranted scrutiny), Amos of KTL found that same consideration to be missing something essential: the proper requisites of the very definition itself seem to have been lost on that previous consideration:

How is the coinciding permeation of space by time a definition, rather than a fact about space? Could not one ask, if space were its own being permeated by time as something other, what would it be prior to this permeation such that it could be permeated?

It is only from within the confines of the problematic of space as it was first introduced (over at A City in Speech) that a proper response can now be ventured to these important observations offered by Amos, if only because one must never fail to exercise a certain respect for the place where he already is, and this a fortiori in the case of a consideration of the a priori nature of space. What we have tried to show in our previous consideration was that the subterranean understanding which governed the initial introduction of this problematic is one that can and must be brought to light and drawn out in meticulous fashion along lines that are unmistakably Kantian. If we keep this hermeneutic situation firmly in view, then a certain light falls upon the otherwise tangled thicket of possible responses to Amos' question regarding the temporal permeation of space.

What does it mean to think space as a pure form of finite intuition? More specifically, when we ask the question "What is space?", how is our search for this 'what' impacted by the peculiarity that space is not intuited like something spatial, but is rather intuited a priori along with and in advance of anything (in space)? The question of what something is either has an object or it does not. If it does, then this is a possible object of experience about which an empirical question may be raised; if it does not, then this is a condition for the possibility of such experience about which a transcendental question may be raised. In the case of the former, namely, the empirical question, what is aimed at is constituted at the most fundamental level by two elements: 1.) the receptivity of intuition and 2.) the spontaneity of the understanding; any possible object of experience, any "what" about which we make inquiry, depends upon 'what' is intuited (the sense manifold) and 'what' is understood (i.e. the categorical organization of the sense manifold). Kant sometimes calls this dual dependency which combines intuition and understanding the "unity of representation". Strictly speaking, only if space, considered in exclusion from anything else, required the unity of representation could it possibly be an object of experience to which an empirical question may be plied. Only if this is the case can we extend our knowledge about space and discover, as Amos would have it, "a fact about space". And, indeed, Kant does more than concede that such discoveries are, in point of fact, possible; his entire first Kritik relies upon and, in another way, founds such discoveries. They are none other than what Kant calls formal intuitions, and in the case of space, they are to be found in that familiar body of apodictic knowledge known as geometry. But a formal intuition of space can in no wise be confused with the form of intuition of space:

Space, represented as object (as we are required to do in geometry), contains more than the mere form of intuition; it also contains combination of the manifold, given according to the form of sensibility, in an intuitive representation, so that the form of intuition gives only the manifold, the formal intuition gives unity of representation.(CPR B161)

Space, insofar as it is formally intuited, is given as a unity of representation in reference to which facts can be established. Thus we may ask and give definitive answer to the question "what is a line?" But the question "what is space?" asks for what any such formal intuition, in its unity of representation, depends upon, namely the transcendental form of intuition of space. To this latter transcendental question and its answer the synthetic a priori judgment capable of establishing facts about space is necessarily indebted. Therefore the question "what is space?" can neither offer a definition produced by the understanding nor ipso facto can it look for that unity given in and by the "unity of representation". The definition of space as a pure intuition must be given in its unity by pure intuition. The oneness or unity of pure space can only be discovered only when its borders or confines are seen, and yet because this unity is not the unity of representation, these borders cannot be de-fined by the understanding, but rather must be intuited. It is as if we must in some way see rather than apprehend the definition of space. But how is such seeing to take place if what is to be seen is neither something we can experience nor even conceivable? It must take place by way of an intuition that is non-empirical, i.e. pure. And for this reason we cannot expect it to be positively demonstrated (and therefore understood in its necessity); it must instead be given, i.e. intuited.

Now, if there were nothing to be purely intuited other than space, then the form of the intuition of space would have to be able to give itself, in its unity, and therefore constitute itself as self-defining. But because something else is given as a form in pure intuition, namely time, this is not necessary. The question remains: is it possible? The only answer to this question must be found by way of recourse to pure intuition. Kant himself indicates the answer by the following observation:

Whatever the origin of our representations,...whether they arise a priori, or being appearances [i.e. possible objects of experience] have an empirical origin, they must all, as modifications of the mind, belong to inner sense. All our knowledge [i.e. any intuition, concept, or unity of representation] is thus finally subject to time, the formal condition of inner sense. In it they must all be ordered, connected and brought into relation.(CPR, A 98)

Kant's observation can be supplied with the testimony of a quick reference to our awareness of anything in space: this awareness itself is not spatial, it is not something that we might bump into like a tree in the forest. It is not defined by space. On the other hand, what about space? If it can be said to be anything, and it is already lost to any attempt to conceive of it, than it must be received as an intuition, i.e. as a form given in the intuition of a sense manifold. But, as Kant just observed, not just the understanding, but intuition too, and any sort of representation, takes place in time. So much is this the case that when Amos proposes the possibility of the alternative, namely,"Could not one ask, if space were its own being permeated by time as something other, what would it be prior to this permeation such that it could be permeated?" he has already presupposed time insofar as he speaks of "space prior to this permeation" ---in other words, the priority is nothing if it is not a temporal one.

When this problematic of the temporal definition of space as Kant has framed it is reflected upon, a paradoxical formulation which it seems we must be content with asserts itself regarding the definition of space: the essence of space is, in the immediate pure intuition of space, lost in that intuition. Space, because it is definable by the pure intuition of time and this alone, must first be lost, since the essence of space is not only, according to the order of intuition, found later, but above all because it is found precisely as what is found later. The de-finition of space is found as what has been lost in space. And it is in this sense that I would like, at least initially, to read the last and most astute comment Amos has left in connection with our recent post on Ereignis:

Also, is space as it transpires in the shifting encounter an example of what "always comes too late?"

Friday, February 19, 2010


Thinking, Heidegger never fails to remind us, is preliminary. But the reason for this, its preliminary nature, is often, and quite wrongly, understood as the limitation of a perspectival horizon ---as if this preliminary nature of thinking were simply the result of the fact that "one can always learn more." But the preliminary nature of thinking consists in just the opposite: one already knows too much --indeed long before he has ever tried to think about what it is that he already knows. The preliminary nature of thinking has nothing to do with the constantly expanding itinerary of some "philosopher of infinite tasks". It is rather a consequence of the radical confinement of thinking to what it already has to think; the proper matter always comes too late to thinking, refusing thinking the luxury of "forging ahead", compelling it to retract itself from the outset, taking back its very beginning. Therefore, it must be vigilantly recalled that the preliminary nature of thinking is a consequence of its dilatory arrival. The thoughtful word hesitates. Otherwise, what there is for thinking to first of all think would be missed entirely.

It is with this dilatory essence of thinking in mind that Heidegger writes in his letter to Jean Beaufret:

Things that really matter, although they are not defined for all eternity, even when they come very late still come at the right time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lost in Space

If borders or limits are required for definition, and if space by definition cannot be anything spatial --and must therefore by definition be refused any limit or border --then we seem prima facie to confront in the problem of space an irresolvable ἀπορία. The apparent force of this problematic has once again asserted itself in a debate that has since fallen into ellipsis over at A City in Speech:

We will close at the present by highlighting that space constantly retreats to the background whenever it is involved in a question. Turn your mind now to the concept of space, and try to fix your thoughts upon it. What comes into your mind? If there are any images of objects within space itself, clear them at once, since space itself cannot be that which it contains. Clear away all materiality from the conception, and fix your gaze upon space itself. Stripped of matter, what remains? What is space?

Thus does the problematic initially impinge itself upon our initial effort to in any way clarify it. But what initially, that is immediately, seems to of itself deny any resolution, often needs only enough pause to embark on a second reflection, i.e., it needs only the mediation of time; although space will refuse all shape and form, it nevertheless must permit of definition insofar as there properly belongs to it the possibility of being encountered as formless. After all, it must be admitted that space is not in the first place experienced as indefinable. The question is therefore begged:

What condition is necessary to make such an encounter of space, namely, as indefinable, possible?

The answer can be brought into relief negatively: there must be something non-spatial about our very encounter of space, something which allows us to see it at first only as a backdrop that is always already there in our encounter of any object of experience, only to allow us to see it later on as an indefinable fore-ground that vexes our attempts to think it. And indeed, in the course of this shift, space itself does not change, yet our encounter with it changes emphatically. The implication being brought into relief has now become obvious:what is capable of constituting the condition for the possibility of any such shifting encounter of space is not space itself but something outside of space itself, something which, being other than space, could not simply reside alongside of space (in just another space, as it were), but would have, at the same time as it remained outside of and beyond space, to permeate it through and through. Of course, in keeping with this a priori permeation, the positive identity of this non-spatial condition has, even in this our present musing upon the definition of space, necessarily already been mentioned. Space is not only bordered by what already permeates it; it is defined by this very coinciding permeation: space is defined by being defined already, i.e. it is defined by time.

Such an answer is in many ways a stock response. It is clearly drawn along Kantian lines, and is --like many things Kantian --easily incorporated into the System of Hegel. As Kant would have it, the pure inner intuition of time is not simply some complement to the pure outer intuition of space: time is not only inner intuition but also universal intuition. What is spatial is already temporal. What is important to see is that this universal status does not erase or correct time's designation as internal. Rather, time is universal intuition in a manner that outer intuition cannot be, and it must therefore be other than what is outer; it must be internal. Time must be internal intuition at the same time as it is universal intuition, and this alone vouchsafes its universal status. But what time is this, which would allow the intuition of time to be necessarily differentiated into what is internal and what is universal, while at and as the same time, insisting upon the necessity of their identity?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Aphoristic Meditation I: Hegel and The Miscarriage of History

Some days I wake up in the morning and it hits me: the world is coming to an end.

Other days it dawns on me that I know better: the world has long since already ended.

But what's this?
Could the end of the world be such thing as to have been missed?

-Pseudonymic Aphorism 1

What would it mean that the end of history is presently missing, that history is, at this point in time, still missing its end? Hegel spoke of the end as nothing other than the beginning which has, in the passage of time, ceased to be the beginning, and has thus become other than itself. For Hegel, this self-othering of the beginning becomes complete in and as the end. The end is the other beginning. Here we must be more precise: the end is indeed the beginning, but no longer bound, that is, no longer bound to end. This is why Hegel spoke of the Unendlich end, the Infinite end. The Infinite end is not the endless succession of present moments, of 'nows' that never stop coming ---if only because, by virtue of their succeeding, these moments are bound; they are by nature bound to succeed. Because they are bound to succeed, they fail to reach beyond this boundary. Success, as that in terms of which these moments approximate their boundary, is the very thing which keeps them from ever attaining ---that is, overcoming ---it. For Hegel however --and that means, with the establishment of the system of science as absolute knowledge, we now already know the end towards which all of this has been leading.

Contra Hegel, however, Heidegger, by way of that other historical thinking, had to indicate that the true end is not the unbound beginning which, coming after succession itself, necessitates it. The true end is not the Infinite end. Rather, the end is the interruption of the beginning, and it is merely this. For the beginning, if it is truly a beginning and therefore harbors the greatness that alone gives the beginning its possibility, is by no means bound by the end; it is bound by itself only. Because of this it is not bound to end, but to return to the beginning (a difference that is impossible for Hegel). In the movement of seynsgeschichte, the end is, therefore, not something that is initially missed (in and as the beginning) and finally attained (in and as the end). Instead, the end is missed in itself, i.e. in a missing that is proper to the end. The end is missed ---essentially. This is why the true meaning of the end cannot be conceived in terms of limit, but must be found in those words that are most of all already spoken, the earliest words: πέρας, or as Heidegger often reminds us, "that from which something begins." The earliest word for end means beginning.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Piety at the Heart of Technology: Conversations along a Cyberpath

Not long ago, over at the excellent KTL, an attempt to stoke the ashy embers of a fire that hasn't "even yet been kindled" regarding the Technikfrage began with the following question:
"How are we to decide whether the claim a work of art makes on us is one which it is pious to obey? If it is impious to ask such a question, how are we to become initiated into the correlative of piety? Or if it is a matter of returning to an original piety from the impiety of our questioning the claim a work of art has made on us, how are we ever to extricate ourselves from idolatrous claims?"
It is this train of inquiry that recalls that famous, oracular pronouncement which concluded a consideration of the historically-founding power of art --a consideration which itself served to conclude a hitherto unattempted inquiry into just what we are to think the essence of technology is. This pronouncement famously runs: Questioning is the piety of thought. With such a pronouncement, Heidegger consummates his consideration of what has been called art in ancient Greece, and no doubt refers most of all to the third of that cryptic triptych of questions cited above. For here, Heidegger is referring to the calm heroism not of asking a question or a collection of questions, but of raising and upholding a line of questioning, i.e., of following through on such questioning in such a way that an entire passage of questioning surprisingly unfolds as the very way one is to question, a way which the questioner must go. This questioning attains its essential necessity by undermining itself, i.e. by eventually putting into question the presupposition of the intial question it in the first place raises. In this manner of a continual stream of interrogative retractationes, it moves according to a strict necessity, as opposed to whim; what such questioning presupposes beforehand is what it asks after. In the case of piety, the above commentator seems to recognize this necessity of questioning to be inherent in the very precondition of locating the 'correlate of piety', when he asks: "if it is impious to ask such a question, [then] how are we [ever] to become initiated into the correlative of piety?" Here --in this very question --the necessity of such questioning is confirmed even as it is questioned.

But the question that is begged from this confirmation is "Why?". Put another way, if it is true that the piety of the ancient Greek experience of the overwhelming yet uncertain presence of divinity ensured in advance that one would never, at least so long as that presence remained, raise so much as a single interrogative syllable towards such divinity, then on the strength of the very same principle it is just as true that we, lateborn as we are, must question. For ancient man did not win the piety which characterizes his essence by way of a preliminary series of deliberations or interrogative exercises: the divine ALREADY came to presence before his eyes. Indeed, even before he opened his eyes the appearance of the divinities rested on the tip of his tongue, in the telling word of μύθος which he had inherited. But let it be stated with the assurance of a principle: the manner in which what is divine is given is also the manner in which it is missed; such is the peculiar essence of what can properly be called divine. Therefore, according to the very same divine essence whereby ancient man could not help but begin in a certain unsolicited and undiscovered piety, so too must the attempts of today, i.e. in the age whose essence lies in technology, begin in an unsolicited and undiscovered impiety. To sustain a line of questioning which not only arises from but goes after its starting point, i.e, the starting point inherited by an age thoroughly ruled by the essence of technology, is to bring the origin of impiety into question even as such a questioning springs from this its origin. Through such an effort, it may happen that impiety thus for the first time faces itself. What does such impiety look like and why has it taken so long to even be glimpsed? Is it possible that this very impiety hid in the piety of the ancients? Is it possible that the ancient piety hides in the impiety of man's existence today?

Several highly important distinctions must be observed here:

1.) First, it must be admitted that we do not ever decide to be involved in that dimension in which the divine brilliantly flashes. If the Greek gods were by no means the stupendous, ex nihilo inventions of the poets, still less were they the fruits of a some sort of consensus among the people. Ancient man was pre-committed to hierophany. The failure to recognize this pre-commitment to such a hierophantic realm is what in part characterizes the essential presumption of modern impiety. Ancient piety, understood in terms of this characterization, is not --at least in the first place --a personal decision, since it could only be something fit for the scales of phronetic deliberation if it if it has beforehand lost all of its gravitas as a compelling, commanding hierophany, i.e. as something quite other than either a fact or a contrivance. Homer himself offers his testimony in this respect:"Far-darting Apollo descended upon the Achaian camp as the night." This is neither contestable nor incontestable. It occurs in a realm whose stillness and purity lies before any possibility of contention. From out of the overwhelming brilliance of such a realm, men find themselves pouring libations and sacrificing in holocausts in accord with a need which they have not yet understood ---a need which has all the same been given for them to attempt to fulfill. Such need, such necessity understood as ἀναγκὴ, is the pulse of the tragic essence of the Greeks, which means of course the Greek essence of tragedy, namely τραγοιδία as the scape-goat's song of sacrifice.

2.) Second, on the basis of this aforementioned pre-commitment, a clearer idea of modern impiety comes to light: it too is not the result of a deliberation. Thinking that the gods --or a god --lie in the hands of men, to be believed or not believed, is a thought which does not precede but is rather precisely made possible by this impiety. In the words of Beitrage, the "decision regarding the flight or arrival of gods" is not some personal decision of an individual 'ego' that preliminarily confronts the 'possibility of religion'. It is an historical decision; it is not a decision about one's preferred 'world-view', but about whether one will have recalled his prior state of pre-commitment.

3.)Thirdly and most relevant to the above quotation, however, is the following line of inquiry: in which domain is the proper response/responsibility to the mysterious hierophany of historical divinity bounded? The answer can be pointed to by reflecting on a few superficial observations:

A.) The Ethical Hierophany of the Ancients.
In the throes of ancient piety, an ethical dimension was inextricable from hierophany. In other words, the divinities were not a landscape which some diviners had the luxury to gaze upon. Nor were they in some perhaps more mysterious way removed from their witnesses. They were rather the homeland itself, in the sense that they arose from and coyly inhabited the habitual haunts, the familiar ways and by-ways of the people, the ἤθος. Such an inhabiting made itself known in and as the ἤθος; the gods flashed in the sense of demanding prayer, sacrifice, and even housing (whether housing in myth under the roof of the mouth, or in the sacred precinct under the roof of the temple). In this way the pre-commitment of ancient piety necessarily entailed an ethical obedience which was itself entirely pre-reflective and unamenable to later conceptual elucidation. It was obeyed without being decided on or 'cognitively' known. It is important to recognize that on account of this ethical intimacy, even a man who was 'impious' was not a man who denied the pre-givenness of the gods, but a man who wished to supercede or resist their interventions or aims.

B.)The Ethical Blasphemy of Modernity.
Modern impiety shares precisely the same mode of pre-givenness as ancient piety. One is from the outset ethically un-committed. He must decide what and who he will believe ---or so he has been given to believe, and this is the point. Thus the realm of divinity to which historical humanity had been committed does not, in modernity, get erased or even put up for decision ---any more than its premodern, and indeed, Greek origin is effaced or confronted -- rather, it simply grows so obscure as to be a vaccuum of unacknowledged pre-commitment. It is in this hidden indebtedness that Modernity achieves its innermost identity.

C.) The Non-Ethical Hierophany of the Technological Age.
By way of contrast, the questioning that arises in and by virtue of the age of technology does not find the divinity pre-given in an inevitable hierophany, nor does it find it as an object of man's consent or deliberation or disbelief. Instead, the questioning that genuinely arises in the present age finds the very pre-givenness as something itself not yet understood and therefore questionable. In such a posture of questioning, what has happened to the aforementioned ethical intimacy? When one questions in this fashion, has he committed hastily to an unknown master? Or has he undertaken for the first time to prepare for the arrival of what ancient man only experienced the fading after-glow of? Can one defer and wait for what he has pre-committed to since time immemorial?