The Beginning and End of Nature

When people talk about the end of nature, what exactly is this nature that has ended? It’s not like the whole universe imploded. Earth is still spinning. Nature isn’t the universe, and it’s not a planet. It’s nature. Nature is an idea, a word, a symbol, which is not to say that it is merely those things. Nature is also whatever reality people were referring to when they used the idea, word, or symbol of “nature.” That reality sufficiently degraded so as to indicate to many people that it has ended. There are still organisms, ecosystems, lakes, rivers, atmospheric conditions, roots, fruits, and all kinds of things, so what ended? What is the reality to which ideas of nature were pointing or in which symbols of nature were participating? An answer can be found by returning to the beginning, to the earliest appearances of the idea of nature.
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The Alluring Withdrawal of Things

The ready-to-hand is not grasped theoretically at all, nor is it itself the sort of thing that circumspection takes proximally as a circumspective theme.  The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in its readiness-to-hand, it must, as it were withdraw [zurückzuziehen] in order to be ready-to-hand quite authentically.  That with which our everyday dealings proximally dwell is not the tools themselves [die Werkzeuge].
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 99.

To put it another way, the real tool is not present, not in theory, not in practice.  Yet, in its withdrawal or retreat (Entzug) it exhibits a trait, a pull (Zug), which opens the space of an attraction (Bezug) whereby a relationship to the thing can be forged.  The thing is never present and never becomes present, never ever, but we relate to it indirectly through an alluring pull.  Oh, to release into the attraction that pulls you into the nearness of distance…

The withdrawn trait of the tools themselves extends to all things, not just to what is conventionally included in the category of tools.  A hammer, a hydroelectric dam, a bee, a theory, a human, and a Greek Temple all share the same tension between withdrawal and presence.  This isn’t to say that Heidegger is not encumbered by anthropocentrism.  His low estimation of animal worlds (poor in world, weltarm) and stone worlds (worldless, weltlos) is weighed down with quite a lot of anthropocentric baggage, his repudiation of humanism notwithstanding.  But that’s a different topic…

Outside of Time in Time

There is a radical temporality of things, such that any present thing harbors an uncanny past that is always already past, never present or presentable.  This past that was never present is, for Maurice Blanchot, an “outside of time in time.”  It is inescapably ungraspable.  The infinite obscurity of this radical temporality is what makes creativity possible.  In the nothingness of this night, an actor creates that which is not created and is not able to be created.  Consider a couple of quotations:

“In this time what appears is the fact that nothing appears.  What appears is the being deep within being’s absence, which is when there is nothing and which, as soon as there is something, is no longer.  For it is as if there were no beings except through the loss of being, when being lacks.  The reversal, which, in time’s absence, points us constantly back to the presence of absence–but to this presence as absence, to the absence as its own affirmation (an affirmation in which nothing is affirmed, in which nothing never ceases to affirm itself with the exhausting insistence of the indefinite)–this movement is not dialectical.  Contradictions do not exclude each other; nor are they reconciled…. In time’s absence what is new renews nothing; what is present is not contemporary; what is present presents nothing but represents itself and belongs henceforth and always to return.  It isn’t but comes back again.  It comes already and forever past, so that my relation to it is not one of cognition, but of recognition, and this recognition ruins in me the power of knowing, the right to grasp.  It makes what is ungraspable inescapable.”  Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), pp. 30-31.

“Now, in this night, I come forward bearing everything [le tout] toward that which infinitely exceeds the all.  I progress beyond the totality that I nevertheless tightly embrace.  I go on the margins of the universe, boldly walking elsewhere than where I can be, and a little outside my steps [mes pas].  This slight extravagance, this deviation toward that which cannot be, is not only my own movement leading me to a personal madness, but the movement of the reason that I bear within me.  With me the laws gratitate outside the laws, the possible outside the possible.  O night, now nothing will make me be, nothing will separate me from you.  I adhere marvelously to the simplicity to which you invite me.  I lean over you, equal to you, offering you a mirror for your perfect nothingness [néant], for your shadows that are neither light nor absence of light, for this void that contemplates….  I am the origin of that which has no origin.  I create that which cannot be created.”  Blanchot, Thomas the Obscure, trans. R. Lamberton (New York: David Lewis, 1973), pp. 107-108.