Text: HERACLITUS (540-480 BC) carries the title Skoteinos = The Obscure / During the summer semester of 1943, Martin Heidegger held a lecture series on “The Inception of Occidental Thinking: Heraclitus” / He talked about “logos,” “listening,” “rise and descent,” “life,” “lightning,” and other things / Oskar Negt discusses Martin Heidegger and Heraclitus - -

Text: HERACLITUS, THE OBSCURE / Oskar Negt on Heidegger and Heraclitus

Text: “That to which they are mostly turned towards, / while carrying it [holding with it], the λόγος, / with this (precisely) they bring themselves apart – / whatever they daily encounter, /(even) that appears strange to them.” Heraclitus

Text: “The thunderbolt rules all - - ” / Heraclitus

Oskar Negt: “It is the thunderbolt that steers the course of all things.” I have always read Heraclitus against the backdrop of a so-called pre-Socratic for whom, in contrast to Parmenides’ ontology, the objects are in movement, they are in flux. On the other hand, the cosmos is something that remains impenetrable. That’s why they called Heraclitus “Heraclitus the Obscure.”

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Alexander Kluge: Skoteinos.

Negt: Here we see something that has influenced the entire history of European thought, because the thinkers who go on to develop metaphysics, who establish the theory and split up its organization among themselves, those people keep emphasizing the element of movement. And Heraclitus is the one who kept saying “panta rhei,” that means “Everything flows, everything moves … “

Kluge: Again, Parmenides, the other great … his opponent. The opposite. He says that the cosmos, the world of the gods and the human world is split in ideas and realities. That includes a hierarchy: The ideas, the categories are superior. The form is the essential part, the content is subservient. We have to imagine this like a baroque vision of Heaven: this or that concept is sitting to the right of the gods. And that’s what he speculates about. Meanwhile, Heraclitus proceeds in a much more pragmatic manner.

Negt: He represents the experience of a world in flux. You cannot step into the same river twice.

Kluge: Ultimately, that’s a very simple, pragmatic, measured question.

Negt: Yes. Especially the logical categories. That’s something the entire Greek philosophy is working on, the attempt to organize the cosmos. Because everything in the cosmos is connected. And of course that leads to Aristotelian logic, to hermeneutics ….

Kluge: … the last great effort to separate the categories …

Negt: Separation, segregation. Or Plato, with his separation of ideas and appearances, ideas and reality ...  

Kluge: They are all successors of Parmenides.

Negt: All successors of Parmenides. That’s how it is interpreted even in Socrates’ Dialogue on Parmenides. And now someone shows up who has some things in common with Democritus and his strange atoms, the átomos, the indivisible. Something new is introduced into the Greek discourse which of course can also be turned into an ontology. If you say: Everything flows, panta rhei, you might say, that is an ontological principle. And that’s how it is understood in Heideggerian philosophy …

Kluge: But Heidegger connects things in a different way. He links it more to practical everyday experiences, just as Socrates or Diogenes would do it.

Negt: Yes. Practical everyday experiences, and there are only a few of his fragments … for Diogenes and for Heraclitus, and by the way, the same goes for Thales – practical everyday experiences are moments of movement, watching empires collapse. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing man-made is made for eternity.

Kluge: Let’s take κεραυνός. Lightning. There are many quotes he is famous for: “War is the father of all and the king of all;” “It is the thunderbolt that steers the course of all things.” Steers all things …

Negt: Yes, but it points towards .... Lightning is philosophically contingent, one might say. It disrupts, it is something you need to be prepared for.

Kluge: It’s here one moment and gone the next.  

Negt: And war. They all point towards this process of becoming.

Kluge: So there are two basic needs. One is: Tie everything down, put down an anchor, contain the uncanniness of time. The monsters are not allowed to move anymore. Everything I fear has to be kept in one place, in a temple. That’s Parmenides.

Text: PARMENIDES, philosopher of persistence and order  - -

Text: HERACLITUS, philosopher of movement and ruins - -  

Negt: You might say that all of Greek philosophy is shaped by these two parallel trajectories.

Kluge: Exclusion. Everything that’s dangerous is being excluded. Experience is excluded.

Negt: And Aristotelian logic, the tertia non datur, the excluded Third. That’s the theorem of the included Third. And during the Socratic, the pre-Socratic period as it is often called, there’s a long list of people such as the Rhetoricians, for example Gorgias. Rhetoric is considered an element of disintegration, in contrast to the ontological movement, such as in Parmenides, Plato, or Aristotle. Rhetoricians are essentially Sophists, they are the ones who deconstruct clear definitions of truth. They are dangerous, or are considered dangerous, because they question the cosmos …

Kluge: Here we have a different way of thinking about the cosmos.

Negt: This is also from the fragment that Heidegger quotes: “The fairest Cosmos is merely a rubbish-heap poured out at random.” Here, too, we see the contingent, the arbitrary, which for us is a dark element of explanation.

Kluge: Best case scenario, the cosmos is a pile of trash. It’s chaotic. Order emerges from chaos, from change.

Negt: Within the context of philosophy, one could say that all these philosophers still resemble mythologists. O philosophos, philomythos, it once says.

Kluge: Those are actually sacred texts. He brought them into the sanctuary of Artemis, of Diana, and burned them.

Negt: So, this here is what has been poured out, the pile that has been poured out; Democritus’ atomism, put together from atoms. We cannot assume the existence of a God anymore – at least not one that keeps pouring. We don’t know who has poured out all this matter, but it is pointing towards a, one might say, materialist tendency in philosophy, as opposed to idealist Platonian or Parmenidean thought. Both work towards transcending the myth, transcending the cosmos as an eternally preexisting context that does not require any explanation. Both try to find philosophical explanations for the existence of the cosmos. Lightning, and the pile of poured matter are both attempts to explain it.

Kluge: Heidegger has a fondness for Heraclitus. More than for Parmenides.

Negt: But he turns Heraclitus into a founding myth. He’s focusing on the return. The cyclical aspects are what fascinates him in Heraclitus. Beginning and end. The beginning is the end. It’s the organological elements, the return of movement. That means, he pulls Heraclitus out of the tradition of open-ended transformation – the openness that is still attributed to the myth in the following phrases: That which has been poured out, lightning, intrudes into the cosmos – and says: Lightning is basically just a cosmological fact of being.

Text: Martin Heidegger / Rudolf Augstein

Text: Martin Heidegger

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Kluge: Oh, I understand. He turns it into a little perpetuum mobile.

Negt: And thus we get the same kind of context: the static, the stationary. The repetition. If you incorporate Parmenides into this kind of cycle of life, you can keep him contained. He’s once again confined in …

Kluge: Nietzsche also loves Heraclitus.

Negt: Yes, but for different reasons. In the “Twilight of the Idols”, there are beautiful statements about the Egypticism in philosophical thought. He says that a large part of philosophy is Egypticist, that means it is oriented towards pyramids. Over a thousand years … and he says that becoming is seen as an argument against the truth. Nietzsche is a fan of Heraclitus in regard to the openness of becoming rather than the closedness of repetition. At least in this point.

Kluge: Was Karl Marx familiar with Heraclitus?

Negt: He adored him.  

Kluge: Adored him. As a materialist.

Negt: Yes. And then there is Lasalle’s text called “Heraclitus the Obscure.” The workers‘ movement engages very intensively with Heraclitus.  

Text: HERACLITUS, 540-480 BC

Text: “The fairest Cosmos / is merely a rubbish-heap / poured out at random.”

Negt: I mean, Adorno … It’s not a coincidence that Adorno writes a text about Hegel and calls it “Skoteinos, or How to Read Hegel.”

Kluge: He reads Hegel through the eyes of Heraclitus.  

Negt: Yes. And says – well, basically Adorno believed that where we can find philosophy, we also find a lack of truth.

Kluge: But the best thing about Heraclitus is that his work is only preserved in fragments, so that we can guess and read a lot into it. The unknown. That makes him mysterious. Even if only because of the way his work was preserved.

Negt: But that’s true for all of them. I mean, we only have fragments of Parmenides’ work. What makes Heraclitus obscure also has to do with some of the allusions in his work. He doesn’t say: This is the origin of the world, for example like Thales, who locates it in the water. For Aneximander, it’s the apeiron. Or Anaximenes. None of them left more than fragments behind, but they all clearly identified in their philosophies the origin of the world. Heraclitus did not do that when he says: First movement, second lightning, third a pile of matter. What is that? Where’s the true origin of the cosmos? That’s what makes him obscure.

Text: “Wantonness needs putting out, even more than a house on fire.” / HERACLITUS

Kluge: Or when he says, for example: “Wantonness needs putting out, even more than a house on fire.” He talks about purely practical behavior. Or he sits near the oven and says: Gods live in there too.

Negt: The arrogance, the Hybris. That is certainly true. But this whole dialogue about Hybris and arrogance is still carrying mythical elements and explains very little.

Kluge: They are commentaries that require a knowledge of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” You need to know Homer’s stories about gods and humans. You need to be familiar with the tragedies.

Negt: In Heraclitus‘ texts, it’s very important that his attempt to break free of the mythical cosmological framework introduces a principle that contradicts the idea of the myth – if you read Heraclitus like I do. If you consider movement and becoming as “open,” it destroys the myth. The myth is based on repetition, recurrence. On rituals of life, birth, death. And I think what Heidegger finds fascinating about Heraclitus is precisely this possible dimension of interpretation.

Text: “Man’s dwelling / (amidst beings taken as a whole) / does not have γνώμαι, / but the divine one does./” Martin Heidegger, Collected Works, Volume 55, Heraclitus, Fragment #78

Negt: Also, “That to which they are mostly turned towards, while carrying it [holding with it], the λόγος, with this (precisely) they bring themselves apart – whatever they daily encounter, (even) that appears strange to them.” That’s how Heidegger translates one of the fragments, Heraclitus‘ Fragment #72. It’s about the question what significance the logos has for philosophers, for thinkers, for the thoughtful. About logos in the practical context of everyday life.

Kluge: The logos of intuition. The logos of hearing.

Negt: The philosophers’ close engagement with the concept of logos, the assimilation of philosophical thought and the question of logos positions them in contradiction to everyday experience. And of course there’s something at work in their minds which they are not conscious of during every waking moment of practical action.

Kluge: It’s a form of compartmentalization. Extrapolation. Big parts of experience are thrown out. Or thrown in. One way or another, they get dumped.

Negt: That is a separation Aristotle wants to eliminate by refusing to lift the aspect of things that is working towards the logos into the world of ideas. There’s simply something in every object that transcends mere actuality, mere existence.

Kluge: Entelechy.

Negt: Entelechy. Every object has the self-expectation to become perfect, to transcend its own reality. And virtue is something like a center for engaging with objects. The virtue of a shipbuilder, the virtue of a general, these virtues …

Kluge: Entelechies would be floating over the junk yard of a metropolis?

Negt: No. The junk yard itself is the expression of failed entelechies, if you will – failed work processes lying within the objects and the virtues.

Kluge: But you would not be able to rule out the possibility that they exist elsewhere, according to Aristotle.

Negt: No, we cannot rule that out. But the problem with Aristotle is precisely that the logos that people engage with cannot be philosophically identified, and that the other objects and conditions and people are separated from the logos. Just as for Plato the world of ideas is something that lies beyond the apparitions of everyday objects, he incorporates the ideas into the appearances and says: potentiality and actuality always belong together.

Kluge: How does Aristotle define or describe logos? It means word, language, meaning, all kinds of things. It’s a word with 600 different meanings.

Negt: Yes, it can have many different meanings.  

Kluge: A man of ancient times is familiar with all the commentary on this word.

Negt: First of all, logos does indeed refer to something more than purely subjective thinking. It refers to something that thinks within us, something that becomes manifest within the object and becomes recognizable as it pushes to the surface.

Kluge: Even if it’s only about the fact that we are not alone, and no person can invent a language on their own. It doesn’t need to be God.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Negt: No, not at all. I mean, the fact that God has been placed above everything, the fact that Christianity assimilates Aristotelian thought, does not say anything about Aristotelian philosophy. Christianity is merely grafted onto it and is controlling what happens. The true processes, the true transformations, true becoming – all that is part of the objects themselves.

Kluge: Always from the inside outwards.

Text: “Wantonness needs / putting out, / even more than a house on fire.” / “It is the thunderbolt / that steers the course of all things. - - “ Heraclitus

Text: HERACLITUS, THE OBSCURE / Oskar Negt on Heidegger and Heraclitus

Text: HERACLITUS‘ writings were destroyed in the fire at the DIANA temple / Copies of his work have been preserved - -