Natural History and grounding of Hope

In Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), Myth and Enlightenment are shown to be enmeshed with one another. Mythical stories are transformed, from the perspective of Enlightenment, into Allegory, Allegory as the “original history of human subjectivity”. It is the journey of historical subject, from the world of myth towards man’s self-conscious identity. Odyssey tells the anticipatory story of Enlightenment as an exit from myth. Odyssey is cut off from past, like the prototypical modern man, for fear of regression. Thus he has no harmony with present and future. Although the sacrifice of past to future sets a progression, a “blind progress”, which is not progress. It is forgetting. The ‘nature’, the most primal, is sacrificed for self. This self is preserved only in the song of Sirens, which Odyssey hears and at the same time is oblivious. It is creation’s natural echo into one’s self. It is the anticipatory moment of fulfillment, an impotent promise which ties past, present and future. Odyssey hears the sirens voice yet doesn’t, for he is tied to the mast, which is the moment of mimesis. Mimesis as an act of self-preservation, is impotent, for he is tied to the mast of the ship, the desire he himself mimes. It is mimesis of one’s own self, self not as other but, where the mimetic moment leads to return, going as return. Self and other as self-same, One. And like nature, Odyssey’s prototypical subjectivity is divided into ‘object’ and repressed subject of history. From this crack between natural or object of nature and subject of history, time of temporal succession is born, which Walter Benjamin calls Homogeneous Empty Time. The time of so-called progress. But through this mimetic process, the movement forward also becomes homecoming, which is not a blind progress but, a nuanced notion of dialectics.

In Heidegger, we notice the urge to ‘destroy’ or ‘unground’ temporality of time. Time as temporal succession of present moments is put into question. The scientific and metaphysical view that time is divided into past, present and future is interrogated. This simple division of life as past, present and future is the time of History or Historiography. Heidegger opposes historiography with his notion of Historicity, the ground of ‘origin’, or Dasein, which is both ‘lived’ and ‘living’ time. Dasein gives clue to fundamental unity between past, present and future. Heidegger reverses the vulgar notion of progress and by returning back to ground or origin, offers us with the possibilities from past, which as the ‘future past’, as decision and resoluteness against fallenness and finitude, offers new hope. Hope as realization of unfulfilled past but also transcends past. This is in a way, binding of past, present and future together as returning and moving forward, is the ground of being, being as potential, potential as transcendence of past. This returning is the true historicity, origin is the goal. What exactly is ‘origin’? The point of primal break between nature and history/culture? This is the precise point where Natural History becomes important. Point of origin can be variously described as natural or pre-historical. History comes into being (to be) at the point of mediation with pre-history, or originary primal ground. History presents itself as the ‘self-same’ identification with its pre-history. Identification works as the origin of historical time, the identification of self with the other (self-same with its other, which differs with the question of being, ‘to be’), which is the anti-thesis of pre-historical nature. Natural History scrutinizes this fundamental question. I look into this question to put forth whether a return back to natural or pre-historical can be a synthesis towards movement, as and in, future. The notion of ‘pre-history’ is very fundamental for these authors. It is important to identify this process of backward movement towards ‘pre-history’/nature in the above quoted authors, which through synthesis with history or self-identifying moment can be a progress which is not blind to nature. As philosophy is something historical and not natural, the primary, so the question of ‘identification’ can be posed through it, where the notion of self and being comes into dialogue, and can be read in relation to natural history. As philosophy is not natural, it is an excess. If philosophy is an excess to nature, what is nature ‘in-itself’ which at a certain point towards its journey from pre-history to history, creates philosophy? From the particular perspective of philosophy, what is the precise point of conjuncture between pre-history and history, which is ‘grounding’ together as a way of progress, not blind to clutches that progress brings forth? My argument will be the shaping of this history by taking its cue from pre-historical natural belonging and questioning the blind faith in progress of history and posit the question of pre-history, natural, in the not natural world of philosophy. Scrutinizing these questions and synchronizing it, we are able to arrive at the path of philosophical hope.

I am indebted to David MacNally and Harold Hass for this article.

Jeet Bhattacharya
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