Remarks on Rilke and Metaphysics

I wanted to work on re-writing Nichomachea ethics, understanding agathon not as a pre-given plenum, but as the existential horizon whose unity and logical priority is a product of ambiguous and erotic lived existence. There was only one problem – that is exactly the project of Being and Time.

Tonight I read Rilke’s Eight Elegy to Valerie. I knew she mis grasped it because she thought it was wonderful. This was unfair, it is wonderful. But it is also terrible, it condemns us to knowing something on abstractly, only poetically, which we can only barely encounter – the Open.

“Only the animals behold the open”

If we could behold the open, we would see the world unbounded, and the birth of one flower would be eternity. What does this mean? The philosopher in me asks. But, the answer is extremely simple – eternity means aion, the boundless – sempeternitas not aeaternitas. Not “forever in time” but “outside of time”. Not measured in time. Time is a measure, as is depth, breadth, height. We set things up, they fall apart, we set them up again, we fall apart. We are always departing, always on the way. We are literally thrown – “project”, in the double sense of projecting our future possibilities and taking up our future possibilities as a structured project.

What is terrible in this poem is not the relatively simple philosophical meaning, but the realization that what we always wanted – the aion, the eternal, the arche, ousia, is not something conceptually structured – is not intelligible. Since being is not a genus, being is not a being, since being is not a being, being is not intelligible. Being is finite, and therefore intelligible, but “BEING” is eternal, unstructured, unknowable. Being “is” limit, but “is itself” open. Open must be understood radically here as “unbounded”, unstructured, unlimited. Outside of all limit. “Being” is not actual, for actuality (energia) implies bounds, implies finitude.

If being had been finite, then being would have been knowable, and being and time might have worked out. But this would have almost required being to be a secret genus. How can being be finite (qua being, not qua beings), and yet be other than being?

More radical – if temporality was not just the horizon for any possible understanding of being, but the plane on which being itself has its being, then being would be differentiated, would be finite enough to know. But temporality is only the horizon for our understanding of being. Nietzsche was right – being is perception. But being is the most extreme form of perception – unstructured. Being cannot be structured perception because in that case it would always be determinate beings. Being is perceptivity, but perceptivity (as opposed to perceptions as such) is not in time, there is no principled boundary of perceptivity. Perceptivity is in time but it is not ideationally limited by time – time does not set a limit which allows aisthesis to occur at all. Being is a transcendens, but one cannot use transcendental arguments to assert the being of being. To do so would be to apply a posteriori attributes through a method to construct a priori archai.
The animals are in the open.


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