macghillie — just a void

18.04.2017, 20 Uhr 16

Eva Meyer
Me as MacGhillie

“When the Eleatics denied motion, Diogenes, as everyone knows” and I read in Kierkegaard, “came forward as an opponent. He literally did come forward, because he did not say a word but merely paced back and forth a few times, thereby assuming that he had sufficiently refuted them.” But did he just assume he had done so? Or had he actually sufficiently refuted them? In fact he doesn’t say a word but – “as an opponent” and “literally” – performs a déjà-vu: he perceives something present, as if it had been once before, and at the same time makes it present in reverse, in the act of perception itself. From then on it is a question of time whether this reversal achieves a mobility of its own, whether what has been once before ceases to be past and becomes charged with possibility. This does not work with arguments, and effects the opposite of what arguments are about. Instead of critical or alienating scrutiny, there is the creation of a singular and risky image – Diogenes pacing back and forth a few times. This does not refute anything and yet suffices to set perception itself in motion, to charge it with a dynamic tension outside any representation of motion, without introducing mediation, which would be merely that of a specific mode of thinking and the generalizations inherent to it.

As every reader of Kierkegaard knows, and I as MacGhillie tell you, this image is simply there and remains unmediated when Kierkegaard begins to warm to the problem of repetition and I put on this warming like a garment. Instead there is a cut between what everyone knows and a new start as the narrative of an “I”: “When I was occupied for some time, at least on occasion, with the question of repetition – whether or not it is possible, what importance it has, whether something gains or loses in being repeated – I suddenly had the thought: You can, after all, take a trip to Berlin; you have been there once before, and now you can prove to yourself whether a repetition is possible and what importance it has.” At home he had been practically immobilized by this question. But he knows that repetition “will play a very important role in modern philosophy” and he bears it out. For just as the Greeks taught that “all knowing is a recollecting, modern philosophy will teach that all life is a repetition”. And right away the initial image is, no, not mediated, but repeated: “Repetition and recollection are the same movement except in opposite directions; for what is recollected has been, is repeated backward, whereas genuine repetition is recollected forward.” Though in between yawns a cut that removes this image from the flow of meaning, and recollects it forward, though not as a chronological break, but cut by cut, as a sign of time in a series that, in attaching further images, enjoys a new freedom.

“Hope is a new garment, stiff and starched and lustrous, but it has never been tried on, and therefore one does not know how becoming it will be or how it will fit. Recollection is a discarded garment that does not fit, however beautiful it is, for one has outgrown it. Repetition is an indestructible garment that fits closely and tenderly, neither binds nor sags.” Unlike the restlessness of hope that drives me towards Berlin, and the sadness of recollection that makes me realize that I cannot revive it, repetition has “the blissful security of the moment”. But then this is exactly what immobilizes me in my arguments.

What counts is the cut, or to be more exact: the unmediated states of an “I” that inhabits repetition as the difference between hope and recollection, and in the security of the moment allows a void between no longer and not yet. One moment, it is the empty “I” of language ready to take me in; next, it is a MacGhillie through which I am always another. Though unlike the empty “I” of language that is ready to take in every subject, the MacGhillie is not a structural void but an individual one. It cannot be confined to an idea of itself and embodies a movement deviating from it. When I put on a MacGhillie, I put myself in relation to a history of camouflage experiments conducted for strategic purposes – wasn’t a ghillie suit developed in England in the 19th century as camouflage for hunters and then used in World War II? Yet when I borrow a ghillie suit from knowbotic research, an artist group from Zurich, everything I recollect or hope from the suit is itself camouflaged. For in the security of this camouflage, I allow myself a difference between what actually exists and its idea, and force myself to think of it. But how do things continue? By simply continuing. By allowing myself time to live and by not immediately looking for an excuse to sneak out of life again, for example, under the pretence of wanting something specific, let’s say, to be invisible. After all, I would like to grasp the difference between the visible and the invisible through me, without making it the subject of a representation and subordinating it to identity, and without relating it to a third thing as the center of a comparison between two forms that differ. Instead I relate it to a third thing as a repetition that insists upon differentiating and lets me inhabit the world instead of devising it according to a preconceived idea.

The more time passes and passes, and once again passes, and it even happens in my narrative that I have gone further along in time than I had actually intended, the more I must constantly repeat, as Kierkegaard does, “that I say all this in connection with repetition. Repetition is the new category that will be discovered.” For this category explains precisely “the relation between the Eleatics [being] and Heraclitus [motion, becoming]”, it is actually “what has mistakenly been called mediation” and what Kierkegaard prefers to call “interest”: “repetition is the interest of metaphysics, andalso the interest upon which metaphysics comes to grief”. Because it insists on excluding me from the world, on putting me in opposition to it, or at best on making me appear in transition to the world, though in this case only in self-contradictory terms.

However, if repetition would include me, not metaphysically, but physically, then I would be that which inter est and makes metaphysics come to grief. I would no longer speak about the world, but represent or repeat myself in it. In other words: I would not just describe what is known with some theory, but also describe the process of knowing itself. But for that I need time. Not only the “two-thousand-year conflict” since “the philosophical schism between Eleatism and Heraclitism”, which Günther sums up in the question: “whether temporality is just a subjective form of apperception, one that disappears with the subjectivity that has separated itself from the world”, a question, by the way, whose pros and cons have become even more acute in the presence of virtual worlds. I should also dare to make the leap beyond this conflict that Günther alludes to when he questions this very issue and concedes that time, “is both subjective and objective and can only be grasped in this twofoldness”. But in order not to rely on still another self-contradictory term, Günther makes the leap he alluded to by referring to Hegel’s dialectical logic. He dismisses its “restriction”, that is, the fact that “this property of time is what makes it ultimately inaccessible to formal logic”, and re-addresses the problem of subjectivity from the perspective of cybernetics. Using it, he postulates “an at least partial repeatability, or the representability of the subjectivity of the ‘I’” in its technical repetition, through which it creates “a physical picture of its acts of consciousness”.

Yet repetition and representation are not the same when we are talking about a technique that involves the knowing subject’s problem of time. The knowing subject should not only represent itself in what is past (recollection, being), but also be able to repeat itself in what lies ahead (hope, becoming). As long as this alternative remains commensurable with that of being and nothingness, time continues to play an invisible role. Yet if we presume an incommensurability while holding on to the truth of being, we have a self-contradictory idea of time that only hazily reveals itself. As MacGhillie, I can now – as Heidegger does – accept that identity is not a main feature of being: “Being belongs with thinking to an identity whose active essence stems from that letting-belong-together which we call the event of appropriation. The essence of identity is a property of this event of appropriation.” But if such an event is not a secondary product of the relation of identity between thinking and being, it has to have qualities that displace the initial property because in it there is, ultimately, nothing more to be recollected. Here Günther’s leap literally comes forward: rather than continuing to use “the same metaphysical linguistic form” for both being and nothingness, and to speak of being even when it is negated, he assumes that nothingness has a “greater power of negation” than is “provided by the truth of being”. With this he leaves the space of being, this “past freedom” of the subject, in order to enter into the realm of its future repeatability.

Fortunately nobody demands an explanation from me as MacGhillie, for I have given up my theory and am letting myself drift. What do I do with myself now? I walk during the day as if I were asleep and lie awake at night. Like Pascal, I wonder if waking life might itself be “only a dream on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death”? Perhaps this flight of time and of life, these diverse bodies that we feel and these different thoughts that affect us in the process, are only “illusions like the flight of time and the vain fancies of our dreams”. But that is exactly what makes me drift: the flight of time that appears to me in vain fancies, because I cannot equalize what is unequal about me, so that it constantly produces a difference out of difference. Does this mean that the condition of what appears is not time and space, but the unequal or non-identical per se, and how it cannot be mediatized and hence has to be repeated intermedially?

What it means for a thinker to discover a new category, that’s what it means for me as MacGhillie to spell things out. Though it would be in a language that evolves out of itself, a language that loses more and more of its referentiality that points beyond itself, and increasingly unfolds in repetitions within itself. In it “the same” never coincides with “the equal, not even in the empty indifferent oneness of what is merely identical. The equal or identical always moves toward the absence of difference, so that everything may be reduced to a common denominator. The same, by contrast, is the belonging together of what differs, through a gathering by way of the difference. We can only say ‘the same’ if we think difference. It is in the carrying out and settling of differences that the gathering nature of sameness comes to light. The same banishes all zeal always to level what is different into the equal or identical. The same gathers what is distinct into an original being-at-one. The equal, on the contrary, disperses them into the dull unity of mere uniformity.” So poetically Heidegger dwells with Hölderlin, and I as MacGhillie attempt the same. Mind you, the same, not the equal, for unlike the equal, the same is not what everyone knows, but is the same cut that separates me from it and, under the condition of this separation, ties me to it. In truth, the tie between me and the MacGhillie is only productive if it relates me to this cut, if it severs me from myself into my greatest possible difference, yet in such a way that each difference is in turn a self that transfers and gathers. Possibly I am beginning to grasp the scope of that which both separates and gathers, and to invent a language for it that goes beyond knowing.

Unfortunately I am not the artist who would have the strength and persistency for such a feat. “Let everyone form his own judgment with respect to what is said here about repetition; let him also form his own judgment about saying it here and in this manner, since I, following Hamann’s example, ‘mit mancherlei Zungen mich ausdrücke, und die Sprache der Sophisten, der Wortspiele, der Creter und Araber, Weiszen und Mohren und Creolen rede, Critik, Mythologie, rebus und Grundsätze durch einander schwatze’ [express myself in various tongues and speak the language of sophists, of puns, of Cretans and Arabians, of whites and Moors, and Creoles, and babble a confusion of criticism, mythology, rebus, and axioms]”, and even argue now and again. “Assuming that what I say is not a mere lie, I perhaps did right in submitting my aphorism to a systematic appraiser. Perhaps something may come of it, a footnote in the system – great idea! Then I would not have lived in vain” but have snuck out of life before the time and given myself over to a meta level. And think about it yourself: what position would an appraiser have to hold to theorize these aphorisms? And what privilege or control would this theory actually exercise through such an overview of what it designates as reality?

It may well be that I am becoming weary of aphorisms, that I am tired of being insignificant, and living in concealment. I might even – as Kierkegaard does – decide to give up my experiment in “various tongues” and return home. “My discovery was not significant, and yet it was curious, for I had discovered that there simply is no repetition and had verified it by having it repeated in every possible way.” Meanwhile, “my hope” lies “in my home”, where I “could be fairly certain of finding everything prepared for repetition”. But what happens? After my departure, my servant begins “a shakeup” for a grand housecleaning. Upon my return, I see in “horror”: everything has been “turned upside down”. Caught unprepared, the servant “in his perplexity” slams “the door in my face“. Though not just in my face, but in that of repetition, which I had counted on with such fair certainty. “My desolation” reaches “its extremity” and “my principles” collapse. I am obliged “to fear the worst”, namely “to be treated like a ghost”. Have I myself become a MacGhillie? Am I a revenant, seeking home, who constantly passes the border in a double reality?

My insignificant yet curious discovery that there is no such thing as repetition and that I can repeat this fact in all kinds of ways may just mean that repetition does not change anything in the repeated object, but it certainly changes something in me. As MacGhillie, I am neither a literal nor a figurative image. As MacGhillie, I am the existence of an image. I cannot picture this, which is why I do not need imagination. But I need an environment: moods, feelings, states, thoughts to drive me on. Light and fleeting like phenomena – a fancy, a ghost, a blind spot that haunts the philosophical, literary, artistic archive as an “I”. Light and fleeting as the words that I take with me in the process in order to create a language out of them that captures my movements like a live camera and continues to enhance their media-enabled visibility so that you can come along.

Yet despite your coming along, this would be a visibility that does not produce a mass-media subject, but promotes me as MacGhillie to the hero of my tale. Rather than inventing a hero, and being his author, I put myself in an undecidability that allows me to write from different perspectives and, in the montage of these perspectives, come forward as an inscrutable existential hero. We are certainly dealing here with a rather idiosyncratic hero who himself does not know if he stays on the surface of things or penetrates into the depths of the ability to reflect. “Somehow” he clings, like Melville, “to the strange fancy, that, in all men, hiddenly reside certain wondrous, occult properties – as in some plants and minerals – which by some lucky but very rare accident (as bronze was discovered by the melting of the iron and brass in the burning of Corinth) may chance to be called forth here on earth.”

“May chance” – what beautiful words! Even if the hero of my tale again only gives a hint and makes no insightful, obvious, rational decision about the nature of these properties, he still shows here that this is his basic condition and with it he escapes all systematic scrutiny and control: a property that is not a deduced and describable attribute, but a contingency, called forth only when things are chosen freely and staged with great care. Thus inscrutability cannot be reduced to a system-related need that the hero merely accepts in the belief that he will then be able to evade the prevailing dispositifs and control mechanisms, no, the hero of my tale turns inscrutability into art.

Even if it seems as if I’d like to stage the mystery of my subjectivity in the ambivalence between my role as author and as hero of my tale, in doing so I achieve a growing spontaneity of this restaging that repeats what I lack: a hero that corresponds like an image with my contingency. Yet it is an image that does not correspond with me in the way a representation would. The image becomes an image in its own right and this works independently of any description of the world my hero encounters. This is why my hero can change his identity, though not as a representation that covers up my ignorance. For now he has infused me with this wondrous, occult property that is my potentiality, my state in futuro, which is undecided and yet at all times capable of decision. “Potentiality”, Peirce writes, “is a positive capacity to be Yea and to be Nay; not ignorance but a state of being.”

Potentiality is the interest of repetition and the interest through which it comes to grief when it continues to use a language that conveys knowledge in familiar terms and thus relates it to a given being. Yet potentiality cannot be reduced to a link between no longer and not yet, when it comes forward in the wake of repetition itself and opens it up to a new language. And if the hero of my tale looks to you like an impersonal entity and anonymous multiplicity, this is precisely why he does not establish objectivity, system, or community. But he displays his own law, the coming-to-life through a repetition that was first experienced and then used in some way – a repetition that ejects what has been from his sense of identity and, as an archiving machine of reflexive processes, aims at serial production. This is also why it cannot be completed and continues to write itself in ever new installments. Yes, I just have to write on and leave open what happens to my hero, this resource of visibility for the unforeseeable.

Gotthard Günther, “Logik, Zeit, Emanation und Evolution”, in: G.G., Beiträge zur Grundlegung einer operationsfähigen Dialektik, vol. III. Hamburg, 1980

“Martin Heidegger und die Weltgeschichte des Nichts”, in: Beiträge, vol. III

Martin Heidegger, “… Poetically Man Dwells…”, in: Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by Albert Hofstadter. New York, 1971.

Identity and Difference, trans. by Joan Stambough. Chicago, 2002 (translation modified)

Sören Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling – Repetition, ed. and trans. by Howard V. and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, 1983
Herman Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses, written by a Virginian spending a July in Vermont”, Duyckinck’s Magazine, July 1850, quoted in: Charles Olson, Call me Ishmael. San Francisco, 1947
Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1670), trans. by W. F. Trotter. New York, 1958
Charles Sanders Peirce, quoted in: Gotthard Günther, “Martin Heidegger”, op. cit.

Translated by Catherine Kerkhoff-Saxon and Wilfried Prantner