Geschehen and (Hi-)Story-telling: The Question of Metaphoricity and Narrative
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There is an inherent and necessary relationship between metaphor and narrative. The interplay between metaphoricity and narrative constitutes the inner metaphysical structure of language and represents the key to understanding the “relation of implication that binds together being, language, and man” (Derrida The Question 58), which is the key to the question about human beings’ historical existence and to their interpretation of their own being. In what follows, I strive to inquire into such a relationship, its premises, and its implications moving from Derrida’s 1964’s seminar Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. I take further Derrida’s discussion about metaphorization and demetaphorization offering an analysis of the interplay between metaphor and narrative in the onto-theological constitution of metaphysics and its ramification into the ordinary understanding of life. Ultimately, the question summoned up by the epigraph “how to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor?” will become the question about how the interplay between metaphor and narrative that supports all metaphysical metaphorology can be subverted through what I call an allegorical infrapolitical narrative.
1. Metaphors and Titling
Derrida closes his 1964 course on Heidegger going back to the initial explanation of the course’s title that opened it:
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)
For the nine sessions of the course, Derrida is addressing under the metaphor “Heidegger” the possibilities of thinking to interrupt the metaphoric movement of language, by interrupting (hi)story-telling, by interrupting the sequence of metaphors to inquire the metaphoricity of language as such. The name Heidegger stands metaphorically for the metaphorical determination of “the cipher of the non-metaphor” -as the epigraph above tells us. In the difference between the metaphors being and history, in their connection and reciprocal solicitation, Heidegger thinks metaphorically the destruction not only of philosophy as history/sequence of certain metaphors to be destroyed and replaced, but as this very movement of metaphysical metaphorization that is the movement of history and language, given the “adherence of metaphysics to the skin of language” (190). Heidegger’s thinking of being metaphorically announced the “horizon of non-metaphor on the basis of which metaphoricity is thought” and becomes the metaphor under which what is hidden is “the opening of the question itself: that is, of difference” (225).
Imitating Derrida’s gesture, I want “in a quite preliminary way to justify in its literality the title” of these pages Geschehen and (Hi)Story-telling – a title that I do not especially like, but somehow imposed itself and resisted all my attempts to revise it since the first notes about the 64’s seminar I presented. This title names metaphorically the constellation of questions that in reading Derrida’s course I am trying to untangle. As stated, these are the questions concerning human existence and its historicity, as well as the metaphoricity of language and its interplay with narrative as both building ground and primary materials of Western Metaphysics and its closures.
First, to let such a constellation emerge, one must resist the temptation to interpret the relationship Geschehen and (Hi)Story-telling as a dichotomy, following the pattern of the dualistic moralistic interpretation of Heidegger’s opposition authentic/inauthentic. The conjunction between Geschehen and (Hi)Story-telling does not represent an essential disjuncture between the two terms, which would be also the trench where philosophy should set its lines of defense. It is not a renovated version of the traditional opposition between conceptual thinking and literature, nor of the classic gesture of dismissing story-telling that Heidegger himself would seem to be mimicking at the beginning of Being and Time when, quoting Plato’s Sophist, he says:
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 [Sein] had the character of a possible being [Seienden]. ( 5)
Actually, what Heidegger is dismissing in this passage are not rhetorical literary tools as inadequate to philosophical knowledge. Neither is he referring to story-telling as a more or less deplorable or useful means to divulge philosophical ideas to a broader public; rather, Heidegger is dismissing the metaphysical approach to the question of being that commanded the history of ontology since classical Greece. As Derrida shows during the 1964’ course, here for Heidegger story-telling is philosophy itself as onto-theology.
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 form which we must awaken is philosophy itself as metaphysics and as onto-theology. (26, my emphasis)
Story-telling is any discourse about beings and the origin of beingness in terms of becoming. Any ontic history is already story-telling. And ontic history is the prominent form of answering any question about the meaning of being appealing to its ground, origin or genealogy. Metaphysical thought is the logic (-logy) that organizes the complexity of relations of foundation and justification between given beings (onto-) which are explained and justified with respect to one another and in reference to a certain ground and origin, up to God-Being (-theo-) as ultimate/first/supreme grounding principle (cfr. The onto-theological constitution of metaphysics). In this context, the novelesque form that constitutes philosophy as onto-thology, can be understood following the semantic’s duality of “story-telling”: that is, fiction and (hi)story. Such a semantic duality refers directly to what I called the necessary relationship between metaphor and narrative. (This is what needs to be thought to gain access to new possibilities of thinking and remains somehow unthought in Derrida’s account on the question of metaphorization in the 1964’s course.)
On the one end, metaphysics is story-telling in the sense of producing fictions. Thinking the totality of being actually means posing them and their ipseity through a process of metaphorization. Metaphysical conceptualization is a process of denomination of a figural fictional entity that stands metaphorically for an equally fictive referent that is though posited as ‘literal’ and ‘proper’. This is the semantic aspect of metaphysical metaphorization.
The metaphoric synchronic conceptualization positing categories of metaphysics itself obscures the fiction always already implied in the hypostatization of the figure. The more explicitly fictive process that produces metaphysical metaphors, also produces the metaphor of the literal as such, the fiction of the proper meaning, and the illusion of the ‘original’ semantic univocality and autonomy of the signifier as well as of the philosophical idea signified. This way, the mechanism of metaphorical conceptualization of metaphysical categories can be seen as a (re)doubling the mechanism of conceptualization that organizes language as such. Overall this mechanics of metaphorization indeed recalls Saussure’s discussion of linguistic value, in at least two main aspects. First, in the way the isolation of a certain sound corresponds to the isolation of a certain thought or idea though it creates the impression that it is just expressing a preexisting given idea: “The characteristic role of language in relation to thought is not to supply the material phonetic means by which ideas are expressed. It is to act as intermediary between thought and sound, in such a way that the combination of both necessarily produce a mutually complementary delimitation of units” (Saussure 110). Second, in the way each linguistic value “depends on the simultaneous coexistence of all the others” (113) in the sense that each semantic unit is determined by comparison and contrast with others. The metaphorical metaphysical categories create the fiction of the proper/literal referent (obscuring its fictional constitution), and are defined in their distinction and opposition to other metaphysical metaphors. Metaphysics, like language, presents itself as a representative system coextensive to the totality of being it stands for.
Following Derrida’s “White Mythology,” one can say the double fiction of metaphorization is what is fundamentally metaphorized in the concept of “metaphor,” which “along with all the predicates that permit its ordered extension and comprehension, is a philosopheme” (Margins 228). The metaphor of metaphor, that is, “the opposition of the proper and the nonproper,” (Margins 229) can be understood as the one conveying the very structure of the semantic system of metaphysical onto-theology. Such a semantic structure is “an elliptical comparison or analogy” (Margins 243) that permits a substitution at the same time as it is implying an opposition (proper-improper; literal-figurative; sensible-intelligible; natural-technical...) and that always requires a projective system of multiple metaphors or a systematic logic of metaphoric productions that deals with and compensates for the structural ellipsis, that is a more general syntax that arranges narratively together the multiple metaphors.
On the other hand, metaphysics is story-telling in the sense that it accounts for the ground of beings as such and for the nexus among those grounding grounds (up to the prote arché of theology) through narrative. Narrative is what both accounts for the relationships among the categories metaphorically posited, and establishes their reference to an ultimate founding principle. The mobilization, conjunction (their syntax), distinction, and justification of such metaphors happen mostly through the narrativization of their coming into being and becoming. Transformation (whether it implies perfectibility or not) and genealogy are some of the narrative modalities metaphysics deploys to account for its figures and supposedly close the gaps among them.
Ultimately, (Hi)Story-telling stands for – to use Derrida’s words- the novelesque form of philosophy that represents the deep structure of metaphysical thought as onto-theo-logy, this is what Heidegger “dismissed” rather than disregarding or rejecting it, through the repetition and destruction of its history. Thanks to the semantic ambiguity of the signifier story-telling, it can stand metaphorically for both the metaphorization that produces metaphysical categories and entities [their ipseity] through the double fictive constitution of both the figure and its referential meaning, as well as for the metaphorical narrativization that historically frames the theoretical justification of those entities and reabsorbs difference into the continuity of a conciliatory process of transformation.
If (Hi)Story-telling stands for the interplay between metaphor and narrative that constitutes the novelesque form of philosophy, then what about Geschehen (historicity)? Also, given the understanding that this essay’s title is not suggesting a relationship of opposition between some kind of morally sanctioned understanding of true historical meaning of human life and some frivolous mythological speculation or narrative entertainment, what kind of metaphorological syntax do Geschehen and (hi)story-telling together produce?
The term Geschehen (historicity) is the term Heidegger uses to refer to Dasein’s authentic historical existence and here, it stands metaphorically for the “relation of implication that binds together being, language, and man” (Derrida The Question 58) as the horizon with respect to which the question about (Hi)story-telling, i.e. the interplay between metaphor and narrative that constitutes the novelesque form of philosophy, should be asked. Using Geschehen in the title seeks to underscore the pivotal role that the question of historicity of existence needs to play in order to find within metaphysical thought the fissure that will let its other emerge; that is, for Heidegger the emergence of the ontological difference in the destruction – which is its repetition – of the History of Being. In this sense, the question of historicity would be the question that lets the thinking of being emerge, announcing metaphorically the horizon of the non-metaphor through the repetition of the history of being as well as through the inquire into the metaphysical determination resulting from the work of metaphorization accomplished by language. Second and secondarily, accomplishing such a metaphorical task, the term Geschehen links the present research to a specific line of thought- for which the name ‘Heidegger’ metaphorically stood in Derrida’s 1964’ seminar- that announces itself as ‘epochal and historical’ and that ties the possibilities of new thinking (of an epochal renovation of thinking) beyond metaphysics.
2. Language, The Privilege of the Present, and Within-timeness
Language represents the implicit link that binds together the two parts of the title creating the metaphorological syntax analyzed here. In language the relationship between man and being takes place. On language the historicity of man as man’s possibility of ek-sisting relation to being depends. (Hi)story-telling, this is, the interplay between metaphor and narrative, constitutes both the language of metaphysics and the metaphysical structure of language. (Hi)story-telling and its dominance as a form of thought, but also as predominant modality of language, depends on Dasein’s peculiar historicity (Geschehen).
As Heidegger states in section 79 of Being and Time: “Dasein exists as a being that, in its being, is concerned about the being itself” (387). What marks the human being with respect to other beings is the possibility of engaging with the question about being, or better the human being’s way of being is existing as the place for the historical emergence of ontological questioning. It exists historically in its proximity to Being, it exists as exposed to Being. The Da- (there) of the Dasein (Being-there) stands for that proximity that 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. Language is how Dasein historically exists, since it is how the possibility of asking the question about being is given. Language is not a characteristic of man among others, nor it is a property or a possession. As Derrida explains during the third session of the seminar:
Because being is not a being, it appears only in language. It is in language. If language were to disappear, being and the difference between being and beings would also collapse. So language is the shelter of being, language guards being. This shelter is historical, that is to say it has not been constituted for all eternity (a historical determination [uncertain word]), it is history itself, which is to say it is a constructed shelter, one that is constructed, assembled: a dwelling. But the dwelling is not only that, it is also the originary place, the here starting from which I measure my movements; I go out of my house, I stay in my house. But there would be no movement possible for me without reference to an originary place outside of which I am exposed. (59)
The reciprocal implication of being, man, and language is always historical. Historicity is ultimately this implication of being, man, and language. Understanding and interpretation of being are Dasein’s most proper and essential possibility; it is the possibility that is always already given to man by its historical dwelling in language. Such a possibility is as much a possibility for its own aberration and misconception as it is a possibility for hermeneutic ontological disclosure. The most authentic ontological possibility of Dasein – which is its possibility of understanding its own being with respect to the meaning of being itself- is based on the ontological pre-comprehension of being that is always already given to it as common sense and through linguistic structures.
In its manner of existing at any given time, and thus also with the understanding of being that belongs to it, Dasein grows into a customary interpretation of itself and grows up on that interpretation. It understands itself initially in terms of this interpretation and, within a certain range, constantly does so. This understanding discloses the possibilities of its being and regulate them. (Heidegger Being and Time 19)
Ontological understanding is possible for Dasein based on a circularity that ties together pre-comprehension (in the form of the supposed mastery of the predicative structure of language– signification of being-) and questioning. Such circularity is the deep structure of Dasein’s historicity and depends on its ecstatic and horizontal unity of temporality, that is, the anticipation of the ontological potentiality-of-being coming together in the Moment of the authentic present with the always already having-been thrown in-the-world. (348) “Formulated primordially and existentially, understanding means: to be projecting toward a potentiality-of-being for the sake of which Dasein always exists” (Heidegger Being and Time 321,) but it is also “equiprimordially determined by having-been and the present” (322). And this means that understanding is always determined by the always already being-in-the-world, i.e. the customary interpretation of being and the being-with (Mitsein), i.e. common sense. As Being and Time is meant to show, temporality is what defines Dasein’s existence as the being concerned about its being, it is the meaning of existence as care, but it is also the meaning of man’s everyday average kind of being. Dasein’s historicity as much as everydayness are grounded in its authentic temporality. Dasein exists historically both authentically and inauthentically, or, better, initially and for the most part inauthentically. Inauthenticity is a primordial possibility of Dasein’s Geschehen.
In its everydayness Dasein does not understand its own ecstatic temporality, but rather it represents its historical existence as being within-time. Within-timeness is how Dasein understands its existence on the basis of ordinary ontic understanding of time, which is also what Heidegger calls the “vulgar concept” of time. Such an inauthentic ontic understanding of time, which is rooted in inauthentic temporality, stems directly from its Dasein authentic historicity, from the fact that he is always already thrown in a world and that means also everyday “dealing in the world with innerworldly beings” (Heidegger Being and Time 66). It thinks time as the “free-floating in-itself of a course of nows objectively present” (Heidegger Being and Time 403), this is the infinite sequence of nows that arrive, are present like things, and then pass away.
The succession of nows is interpreted as something somehow objectively present; for itself moves ‘in time’. We say that in every now it is now, in every now it already disappears. The now is now in every now, thus constantly present as the same, even if in every now another may be disappearing as it arrives. Yet it does show at the same time the constant presence of itself as this changing thing. (Heidegger Being and Time 402)
Within-timeness is an understanding of being based on the model of the things available in-the-world. It is understanding of being that privileges the present and the presence of the present; and it emerges directly from Dasein’s temporal existential structure. The privilege of the present is itself initially and for the most part what orients the Dasein in its everydayness, and it represents the metaphysical understanding of time. And one could actually 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.’
The privilege of the present and within-timeness are embedded in language. It is through language and its structures that metaphysical thought become the framework for a commonsense understanding of being. As language is the proper historical possibility of man to dwell in being’s proximity, that is, language is the key to Dasein historicity as the possibility to relate to being, it also mirrors the fact that this historicity means that Dasein, initially and for the most part relates to being as mere objective presence within time.
It is the privilege of presence that presides over the semantic metaphorization that works in language, which itself mirrors the process of figural conceptualization of metaphysical categories. Denomination is a process of metaphorization that assumes the ontic presence of the literal as a given, and determines it as what is objectively present. (Heidegger Being and Time 71)
Metaphor overlooks the fictional, textual element is the nature of the entity it connotes. It assumes a world in which intra- and extra-textual events, literal and figural forms of language, can be distinguished, a world in which the literal and the figural are properties that can be isolated and, consequently, exchanged and substituted for each other. (De Man 151)
It is in the privilege of the present, in the primacy of presence that the entire mechanism of signification as re-presentation is grounded. Assuming the presence of the present, linguistic denomination produces metaphorically a determination of the literal world that effaces its fictional character. Language is virtually always already metaphorical in a originary way because it assumes the metaphor of metaphor- i.e. the metaphysical concept of metaphor built through the privilege of the present- as constitutive to it. Metaphysical metaphorical conceptualization - as well as its concealment - is always already part of linguistic denomination.
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. (Derrida The Question 62-63)
So, there is no originary truth of being first, that language would be improperly covering up metaphorically through the rhetorical exercise of telling stories. Tropic aberration is always already constitutively part of language.
3. Metaphysical Methaphorology: Subject, Community, History
Metaphysical metaphorology finds its ground to impose itself as common sense self-evident truth in the metaphorical character of language- which is in turn grounded in the privilege of the present as the understanding of time that marks everydayness’ historicity of Dasein. The mirroring between linguistic structures and metaphysics is the key to onto-theology’s dominion over the history of being, as well to what Derrida calls the phenomenon of Heidegger’s running out of breath in the Analytic of Dasein (See session 7).
Metaphysical categories are constituted within this privilege as presence of the presence, “as identity of the self with the self, as unshakable ground” (Schürmann “What must..” 8), as hypostatization and closure. Metaphysical metaphorology is thoroughly built on the privilege of present; since the primacy of presence is what allows (for) the metaphor of the metaphor - “the concept of metaphor, the opposition of proper and the nonproper, of essence and accident, of intuition and discourse, of thought and language, of the intelligible and the sensible” (Derrida Margins 229)- which is also the philosopheme that holds together the whole architectonics of metaphysics as such and for this reason constitutes its own blind spot. In so far as metaphysics is organized around the concept of metaphor, narrativization is constitutively part of it. Like narrativization is the other side of metaphorization, within-timeness is the other side of the privilege of the present. (Hi)Story-telling as interplay between metaphor and narrative is telling the privilege of the present within time, and this means telling about the closure of a self-standing presence that eventually is in History, came to be and change in time.
The privilege of the present -both as mere presence and as within-timeness- is also conditio sine qua non for the process of ontic metaphorization – the tropic aberration – that generates metaphysical concepts, their system of oppositions and their narrative-genealogical justification. The transcendental structure of the present is where all the main metaphysical closures take place.
Let’s consider first the metaphorical syntax emerging from what one could consider in a broad sense the main conceptual triad of modern political philosophy: subjectivity, community, and history. All three are metaphors presumed to name and rule over existence seen through the dominance of the presence. Each of them, their respective relationships, and the series of dualistic oppositions that determine them as such, find their justification and raison d’être narratively.
First and foremost, the subject. No subjectivist closure is possible outside the logic of presence. The subject is the I of the living present. The subject is present to itself as it faces and “opposes” the object, as it thinks itself thinking against the beings extending in the space of mere presence. 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 Being and Time, this subject exists as the sum of the momentary realities of experiences that succeed each other and disappear in a succession gradually filling up a framework, an objectively present path. 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 and is opposed to it: subject-community, individual-society, private-public, ethic-politics. 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 within time 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 a given community is narratively produced. The unity and the continuity of a given community in history is its origin and/or destiny. And so, it is the justification of its constitution and its existence tout court. The subjectivist metaphysical approach to the political and its closure does not only conceive the community as plural subjectivity on the model of the subject and in opposition to it, but it justifies it through founding narratives of transformation. The metaphysical understanding of political community is organized around a series of metaphorical oppositions (individual and community, private and public, nature and society, violence and institutions) where the fictional metaphorical hypostatization and separation of the first serves to support and found the possibility of the transformation that builds and justifies the inherent plurality of the second following a teleological narrative of self-preservation and progress.
The metaphysical closure of History is in general the closure of the within-time-ness, which guaranties the continuity of the subject and the community. History is the guarantor of that being change in time, that transformation occurs and so, of narrativization as explanatory supplement for the gaps left by metaphysical metaphorology. 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 and to its self-projection toward a common destiny. 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 assumes the continuity-unity of subjectivity in any of its ethical-political collective forms.
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 closures, 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. (Derrida The Question 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. Da-sein’s authentic temporality coincides with its Geschehen: “Temporality reveals itself as the historicity of Dasein” (Heidegger Being and Time 317): “The analysis of the historicity of Da-sein attempts to show that his being is not “temporal,” because “it is in history,” but that, on the contrary, it exists and can exist historically only because it is temporal in the ground of its being” (Heidegger Being and Time 359).
Understanding Da-sein’s authentic temporality allows the understanding the privilege of the present as the irreducible ground of metaphysics and so, it is the only possibility of stop telling stories. However, it also means understanding that telling stories, as the inauthentic comprehension of its being, is not an extrinsic threat to Dasein, but “a possibility and even an essential necessity inscribed in the very heart of its being” (Derrida The Question 116), as it is inscribed in language and its predicative structures. And ultimately this means recognizing that -as Derrida points out in Ousia and Gramme – no alternative concept of time is possible, because the concept of time itself belongs to metaphysics and structures it:
The concept of time, in all its aspects, belongs to metaphysics, and it names the domination of presence. Therefore, we can only conclude that the entire system of metaphysical concepts, throughout its history, develops the so-called “vulgarity” of the concept of time (...), but also that an other concept of time cannot be opposed to it, since time in general belongs to metaphysical conceptuality. In attempt to produce this other concept, one rapidly would come to see that it is constructed out of other metaphysical or onto-theological predicates. (Derrida Margins 63)
4. Demetaphorization and Infrapolitical Narrative: à mode de Conclusion.
In the 1964 Seminar, Derrida -with and through Heidegger- points out that the possibility left for thinking is to interrupt the metaphoric movement of language, by interrupting the (hi)story-telling, interrupting the sequence of metaphors to inquire the metaphoricity of language as such:
the work of thinking is basically nothing other, in what is called science or elsewhere, than this operation of destruction of metaphor, of determined and motivated reduction of metaphor, whenever and wherever it happens. Which does not mean that one leaves the metaphorical element of language behind, but that in a new metaphor the previous metaphor appears as such, is denounced in its origin and in its metaphorical functioning and in its necessity. It appears as such. One can perhaps call thinking and the thinking of being (the thinking of being as the horizon and the appeal of an impossible non-metaphorical thought) what calls for such a gesture of de-metaphorization. [...] 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). (Derrida The Question 190)
Demetaphorization is the task Derrida assigned to thought, whereas Heidegger was calling for stopping telling stories. Both appeal to a gesture that deals with its own impossibility and its own always already given failure. Thinking cannot really escape a certain degree of metaphoricity, but only by interrupting it, can it make visible the possibility of non-metaphoricity as coextensive to metaphorical language. The possibility of the non-metaphor is given only in language itself as the - still linguistic and still metaphoric- gesture of crossing out the trace of metaphor.
Following the analysis conducted in these pages, one could take one small step forward saying that to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor requires a sub-version of the dynamics of the interplay of metaphor and narrative. If there is no actual way out from the interplay of metaphor and narrative, since language is first and for the most part the language of metaphysics and its predicative structures are themselves a function of such an interplay, what is left is the narrative of the failure of metaphor itself. What is left is a narrative that does not compensate for the gaps and ellipses constitutive to any metaphorology. This would be a deconstructive narrative that tells of the failure of prior compensatory narrations. Whereas the tropology constituted by the synergic interplay between metaphor and narrative implicitly denounces the impossibility of naming while compensating for it, this would be a narrative that deconstructs such an attempt to compensate and makes visible its structural impossibility. Such a narrative modality recalls closely the category of allegory that organizes Paul De Man’s work on Rousseau. For De Man, allegory is “a narrative of the second degree, which includes the deconstruction of its own immediate, apparently realistic signification” (Balibar 92)
The difference is only a difference of degree and the allegory does not erase the figure. Allegories are always allegories of metaphor and, as such, they are always allegories of the impossibility of reading- a sentence in which the genitive “of” has itself to be “read” as a metaphor. (De Man 205)
Infrapolitical thought is always allegoric in this sense, since it assumes both the failure of any metaphorology to step beyond the domination of presence, and the impossibility of leaving behind the metaphorization of language and with it the trace of metaphysics always inhabiting our thinking.
Infrapolitics is also a region, or a site, as we called it before, where some incapacity of the word to be equal to thought, to a “thought,” an unfillable gap or a fissure between language and thought, also happens, but infrapolitics cannot even claim the status of a “discourse or rather a writing” (infrapolitical reflection is, of course, both, but not infrapolitics as such, if there is or could be an “as such” of infrapolitics.) So what is its interest? Can infrapolitics make up for an incapacity, a lack, a gap between language and thought? (Moreiras 12)
Infrapolitics is the allegory that tells the failure of naming, that tells the gap between language and thought and the necessary failure of the metaphor that names it. What infrapolitical allegory tries to do is what Derrida’s epigraph to these pages was calling for, i.e. “to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor” (Derrida The Question 224).
Infrapolitical thought is always already the gesture of de-metaphorization of metaphysical closures. This gesture is one that turns narrative against metaphor. In infrapolitics the synergic interplay between narrative and metaphor become the former’s allegoric work of undermining the latter. Thinking the infrapolitical dimension of existence means indeed challenging the metaphorological syntax of the threefold metaphysical closure of subject-community-history. Through the allegory of an infrapolitical dimension of existence, infrapolitics deconstructs ethical-political (hi)story-telling and its pretension of exhausting existence as such, and is trying to think historicity, Geschehen. The allegory of the infrapolitical dimension of existence is itself a metaphorical narrative, but of the kind that aims to demetaphorize and undermine a certain metaphorology, and, so doing, is always already undermining itself as a metaphor, this is, as a tropos that posits its own referent as proper. The radical improperty (understood as being beyond the metaphorical opposition between proper and non-proper) of infrapolitics breaks up the threefold metaphysical closure of subject-community-history where all theory of hegemony finds its ground. In this sense, in “Infrapolitics: the Project and its Politics. Allegory and Denarrativization. A Note on Posthegemony” Alberto Moreiras says:
We have reserved a name for the impolitical politicality of infrapolitics: we call it posthegemony, or even democratic posthegemony. Infrapolitics meets in posthegemonic democracy, or in its praxis, which is posthegemonic democratization, the supplementary interruption of its own sub-cessive praxis. I will try to be all too clear on this: infrapolitics is not a politics, but posthegemonic democratization is a political praxis, and it would be hard to have one without the other. There can perhaps be infrapolitics without posthegemony, but there is no praxis of posthegemony without infrapolitical reflection. Both infrapolitics and posthegemony attempt to think the gap between epochal politics, as it can be available to us, and its difference from itself—that in the human experience, or in existence that, while marked or even covered over by politics, is itself not political, is not itself political, while it subtends politics. (14)
The thought of a posthegemonic democracy moves from a subversion of the metaphorological syntax of the threefold metaphysical closure of subject-community-history. The possibility of posthegemonic democracy depends on the infrapolitical thought of the impossibility of communitarian closure –both in terms of subjectivity and historicity– a community that thinks infrapolitically its own impossible Zusammenheit. Such a thinking can only be an allegorical narrative that subverts the metaphorological syntax of onto-theological political thought. And such an allegorical narrative should be a deconstructive practice of thinking, of writing, of reading, and of exploring the unfillable gaps among them, rather than the establishment of a figural representation of the failure of representation, of representability and referentiality as such.
Infrapolitical thinking calls necessarily then for moving beyond the distinction between literary and philosophical-political narrative. First, because such an opposition derives directly from the concept of metaphor (the metaphor of metaphor) as one of the grounding grounds of metaphysics. Second, because the distinction between the literary and the political works to conceal the fundamental function played by narrative within metaphysical metaphorology. Third because - as Derrida pointed out in Literature in secret- there is in literature an originary possibility for keeping the secret of secrecy, that consists in “respecting the absolute singularity, the infinite separation of what binds me or exposes me to the unique, to one as the other” (122); and this originary possibility “makes it inseparable form a democracy to come” (156). Though in a sense all literary narrative phenomena – in virtue of what Derrida calls their meteoritic character- have an inherent connection to the infinite withdrawal of the singular undermining the metaphysical metaphorology of the common names, there are certain literary narrative events that should be considered as infrapolitical allegories to the extent that the secret that they keep- and by keeping it, they give it away- is the secret of the impossible possibility to determine metaphorically the cipher of non-metaphor. Those are the narratives that tell allegorically their own impossibility of telling the secret of the singular, of closing narratively the gap between language and singular existence, the impossibility of capturing it metaphorically under common names. Telling such impossibility means telling the limits of political hegemony.
Many different examples could come to mind, though I would like to close these pages thinking about Kent Haruf’s trilogy Plainsong and its last novel Our Souls at Night. Kent Haruf’s work makes allegorically present (of course it is still a narrative, so the trace of the privilege of present cannot help but be there) the impossibility of the presence of community as such. His narrative breaks the metaphorical metaphysical closure of the community based on the privilege of the present. What the meteoritic character of his narration tries to make briefly, rapidly, and transitorily allegorically visible is 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 Daseins, which are indeed mitseins. The Plainsong trilogy offers a completely dissonant, asynchronic narrative of a plurality of un-epic existences, each of which is presented neither as part of a common communitarian destiny, nor as the continuous development of life. Each of the characters’ voices speaks of the impossibility of telling its own story, and gives voice to a plurality of haunting fears, projections, illusions and disillusions, and, sometimes, to the always already impossible chance to escape the communitarian common sense’s Enlighted despotism. If one wants to take seriously the extract from the Los Angeles Times’ review of Plainsong that stated, “A loud noise rumbles from this quiet novel . . . a deep language, like the rumble before an earthquake,” I would say that it is the rumble of the communitarian Zusammenheit crumbling apart throughout the pages of a non-choral choral narrative that is irremediably plural, and that lacks any harmony as well as teleology whatsoever. Haruf is allegorically ciphering the possibility of a posthegemonic democratization (to come) in the infrapolitical narrative that tells about the singular dissonant happening in a non-place, in the imaginary and not more precisely located county of Holt in Colorado, as allegory of the impossibility of a community as such.
- Balibar, Etienne. Citizen Subject. Fordham UP, 2016.
- De Man, Paul. Allegory of Reading. Yale UP, 1979.
- Derrida, Jacque. Margins of Philosophy. University of Chicago P, 1982.
- Derrida, Jacques. The Gift of Death; and, Literature in Secret. University of Chicago P, 1995.
- Derrida, Jacques. The Question of Being and History. University of Chicago P, 2016.
- Heidegger, Martin. Time and Being. State University of New York P, 2010.
- Moreiras, Alberto. “Infrapolitics: the Project and its Politics. Allegory and Denarrativization. A Note on Posthegemony.” Transmodernity. 5 (1), 2015.
- Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistic. McGraw-Hill, 1966.
- Schürmann, Reiner. “What must I do at the end of Metaphysics” in McBride, William Leon. Phenomenology in a Pluralistic Context Selected Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy; 9. State University New York, 1983.