20 Days on Mercury: A Ten Year Retrospective

One year on Earth (365 days) is four years on Mercury.  Mercury revolves around the sun relatively quickly: once every eighty-eight Earth days.  While the years are relatively short on Mercury, the days are long—twice as long.  One day on Mercury takes two years on Mercury, which is to say, it takes two solar revolutions of the planet for it to rotate fully on its axis (in Earth terms: imagine the sun rising in June, reaching its noontime zenith in January, approaching dusk the following summer, and approaching midnight the following January).  In the last ten years, twenty days have transpired on Mercury.

I found some old notes of mine (perhaps even “notes” is too emphatic a word), which were written in this month ten years ago.  They are clearly under the spell of Mercury, or in Greek terms, Hermes.  I was quite taken with hermeneutics, particularly through the inflection of a Heideggerian-Aristotelian poetic philosophy.  I was interested in a hermeneutic radicalization of hermetic philosophy (not unlike Jeff Kripal’s mystical hermeneutics or Jack Caputo’s devilish hermeneutics).  Along with hermeneutics, I was also exploring the Merleau-Ponty/Whitehead alliance, anticipating current trends in hybridizing phenomenological and process thought, such as the “Whiteheadian key” to Merleau-Ponty’s ontology that Hamrick and Van Der Veken articulate (see Nature and Logos).  I can also see the beginnings of my ongoing work with a philosophical concept of sense.  With no further introduction or commentary, no apologia or proslogion, here’s a sample of what I was writing twenty mercurial days ago. 

I need to clarify the difference between hermetic and hermeneutic thinking. Although both are related to the herm—hermes—hermeticism and hermeneutics are two different recoveries of the Ancient Greek experience of the herm. Both traditions have their origin in the Platonic and Aristotelian explication of hermes and his derivatives, especially hermeneia (interpretation).

Consider Plato’s account of theuth (thoth/hermes) in the Pheadrus. This is the key to Plato’s pharmacy. Aristotle’s peri hermeneia brings hermes into a similar position as does Plato. With both of them, logos takes center stage. (This is Socratic first and foremost: see the Phaedo and Socrates’ account of his own “second sailing.”)

Hermeneutic and hermetic writings occur only after Plato’s dialogues and Aristotle’s treatises were widely known, which is not to say well known. Origins of hermetic thinking tend to be attributed to the corpus hermeticum and other works by the so-called hermes trismegistus. Of course, it wasn’t hermes that wrote those books.  By now, isn’t everyone aware that these texts blatantly rip off a lot of Plato, Aristotle, and their ilk? Hundreds of years went by before any scholars noticed that the supposedly ancient work was written around the dawn of Christianity and not hundreds or thousands of years earlier.

Hermeneutics is normally attributed to Aristotle, but only tentatively. Hermeneutics was taken over by the church, patristic theology, and then scholastic philosophy, whereby it became synonymous with the interpretation of biblical texts: hermeneutics as exegesis. In the early nineteenth century, you would call any understanding person, any sympathetic compassionate type of person, a hermeneut. But with Schleiermacher and Dilthey, hermeneutics became the method for the interpretation of any difficult text (Schleiermacher) and of the objects of the human sciences, i.e., the method of die Geisteswissenschaften (Dilthey). Hermeneutics moved from the interpretation of biblical text (Augustine), to any text (Schleiermacher), to all human sciences (Dilthey), and then Heidegger radicalized all of this by returning to Aristotle and recovering an ontological meaning of hermeneia that was hiding in Aristotelian grammar. With Heidegger, hermeneutic understanding discloses the facticity of human being as such, being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein). All experience is an interpretation of one’s pregiven understanding of facticity, and all pregiven understanding is ex-posed in and as the inter-pretive ex-perience of our be-ing.

Hermetic thought is part of a tradition that comports itself esoterically, occultating the hidden, relegating the mystery of the logos and incarnation to a demarcated region of hiddenness. Hermetic thought is a relative of negative theology. It is for this reason that many patristic theologians appropriated the corpus hermeticum in their own work. Then, when reading Plato after reading the corpus hermeticum, Plato and Aristotle looked like they were being derivative and copying hermes.  In any case, the point is that hermetic thought shares with negative theology an appropriation of the negativity of the ground of being (abgrund and ungrund) that remains forgetful of the event of ontological difference, the factical disclosure of the meaning of Being.  I’m not saying that “hermeneutic philosophy” (as Gadamer so hastily says it) is any better.  Much of this can be framed within a discussion of Sartre’s failure to understand Heideggerian “Nichts,” but what is needed is a reopening of the beginning of Occidental thinking.

The text that has come down to us as Aristotle’s Physics is the secret text of Occidental thinking. By physics, we currently understand Newtonian “classical” mechanics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, relativity theory, and other mathematicized theories. Aristotle completely opposed such theoretical abstraction; yet, his account of nature (phusis) as the causal source (arche, aition) of self-moving motion (kinesis) rests on a presupposition common to all early Greek thinking: kinesis is the poiesis of phusis. Poeisis isn’t “poetry” here, but rather production, making. Making, bringing something into pre-sencing, as having been (pre-sent), becoming past. Making is the tensing of tension (pretend, subtend, obtend, intend, contend, attend, etc.). Despite Aristotle’s attempt to remain concrete and non-mathematical, presupposing the self-identity of poiesis is to reduce motion to an idealized cognitive model (an ICM in cognitive science lingo). Thus, Aristotle’s presupposition became the presupposition of all subsequent research: Hermetic, Gnostic, scholastic, renaissance, enlightenment, romanticism and German idealism, positivism, philological and philosophical hermeneutics, existential philosophy, process philosophy phenomenology, analytic philosophy and language analysis.

But of course, there are exceptions. Some thinkers have managed to write and think about the presencing of poiesis in such a way so as to destroy making as it makes itself. The poiesis of Aristotelian Logic becomes subordinated to a Dionysian poiesis. Pro-duction and making are also part of a de-duction and a destruction, but all of this itself is digested and metabolized. Eating and being eaten, making and being-made are simultaneously destroying and being destroyed.

The interpretation of art can never begin unless one takes up the art of interpretation. This reciprocal genitivity is indicative of the circularity of sense. Sense, sensing itself sensing itself sensing itself… The hermeneutic circle is indicative of an aesthetic circle. The interpretation of art exposes the sense of art by sensing itself as interpretation: interpretation becomes aesthetic. Hermeneutics and aesthetics fulfill one another, interpenetrate one another, ineinander geschrieben. But this movement from interpretation of sense to sense of interpretation is not merely an epiphenomenon, arising secondarily out of the chaotic accidents of passive material. No.

Aesthetic circularity and hermeneutic circularity develop through mutual interpenetration insofar as matter as such is a circular autopoiesis (self-re-pro-ducing). Matter is a productive reduction and reductive production of sense: both terms are simply the obverse and reverse of another (object and reject). The circularity of aesthetic and hermeneutic experience is part of a hyletic circularity. Merleau-Ponty articulated this hyletic-aesthetic-hermeneutic circularity in terms of the divergent reversibility of the flesh. Whitehead’s interpretation of events as concrete prehensions is similar.

So, in short,
I am you if I am I.
Ich bin du, wenn ich ich bin. (Celan)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: