Text: Our new neighbor: Philosophy / Humans fear NOTHING and the VACUUM / Philosophers (and modern physicists), on the other hand, deal with NOTHING on a daily basis / G.F.W. Hegel says that NOTHING is the necessary antithesis to any SOMETHING / Without NOTHING there is no MOVEMENT / Oskar Negt reports - -

Text: WHAT DOES NOTHING MEAN? / Oskar Negt on a philosophical concept

Text: G.W.F. Hegel

Alexander Kluge: The most important general categories: Nothing and something, good and evil. Could you explain the term Nothing in a philosophical sense? What does Nothing mean?

Oskar Negt: Negating Nothing … Nothing … Well, first of all, it has the status of a concept – like Something.

Kluge: It’s the opposite of Something.

Negt: Descartes would say that it is an innate idea, just like the notion of God, and … we have an idea of Nothing that might inspire something like a horror vacui, a fear of the vacuum, so … but if we think of a Something, we also need to consider the Not-Something, the negation of Something.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher and sociologist

Kluge: And according to Kant – different philosophers have different understandings of the term, after all – according to Kant, what is the negation of Something?

Negt: The negation of Something would be negation – the concept does play a role in his table of categories: negation. But Nothing is always determined by Something. That means, the Negation of Being is Nothing. And Nothing has been attributed a lot of different facets throughout the history of philosophy, a lot of characteristics. If a Buddhist talks about the negation of the world, their sense of Nothing possesses a liberating quality, a conservatory quality, something one can … it’s about tranquility, tranquility.

Kluge: Which gives rise to new Being. Which gives rise to different possibilities of Being. The possibility is the Nothing – for a Buddhist that would not sound absurd.

Negt: No. That’s why different religions have different spaces with different connotations that they call Nothing. In a philosophical sense, Hamann is certainly not talking about anything other but the negation of Something. But the negation of Something is also not simply empirical: You can neither prove Something, because it’s a general concept …

Text: Johann Georg Hamann, philosopher in Königsberg

Kluge: The interesting thing is: I can imagine a Something, and I can picture a fractured Something. But there is something strange about the word Nothing, similar as with Darkness. I can picture the Dark, I can imagine something specific as being dark, but I have enormous difficulties to imagine the noun Darkness, which represents something general, so to speak – the Orcus, the abyss, something that transcends Being …

Negt: All of those have spatial and temporal characteristics, they have spatial and temporal characteristics, and therefore would not fall under the category of Nothing.

Kluge: But in modern science there’s the notion of spheres consisting of extremely brief moments in time. So brief that they could have only existed immediately after the beginning, following the origin of the cosmos, mere centimeters away from the big bang. And that’s where a physicist or cosmologist would locate the Nothing as the idea of pure potentiality. Here, blurriness and potentiality and improbability increase to a degree that no natural laws or atoms can emerge from it. That is a concept of Nothing that does not only have a definitory function. This Nothing still exists today in the smallest elements and the briefest time frames, and would perpetually generate an instance of Being or Something that is not Nothing.

Text: Distance between galaxies / Time

Negt: That may be true. But as humans equipped with sense and sensibility, any notion of Nothing we develop emerges against the background of the categorial framework of Something. That means, Being always defines our understanding of Nothing.

Kluge: Where is the Nothing hiding now? Is it hiding in the gaps of Being? Is it like an ocean of Nothingness surrounding the Being? Where is Nothing?

Negt: I would answer that question in a very orthodoxically Hegelian manner: Nothing is nothing more than negated Being.

Kluge: That means, it’s another characteristic, another status, another aggregate state of Being.

Negt: And if you have movement, if you have some kind of process, Being and Nothing are always …

Kluge: … intertwined. Without Nothing, Being cannot act.

Negt: There is no movement without the negation of Something – negation not meant here in a Heideggerian sense. Hegel explains this very poignantly at the beginning of his Logic. He says: Let’s start with Being – but Being, sheer Being, what is that? Sheer Being is Nothing. It has transformed into Nothing because it doesn’t have a specific purpose. So you could say that sheer Being and sheer Nothing are identical, have become one and the same. Only Becoming establishes specific transitions from Being to Nothing: Over the course of a specific development, a process, that which exists is negated and shifts into a different aggregate state.

Kluge: In a film, one split second is dark – the transport phase – and another split second shows an image: does that work as an emblematic image or metaphor for the interplay of Being and Nothing in movement? Is that plausible?

Negt: If you think that a dark spot is Nothing, then yes. But if you don’t see it that way, because you do see something even in a dark spot – which is likely –, then it’s not Nothing.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher and sociologist

Kluge: Next question: If a film cut – that is, an image – and a second cut – again, an image –, are in contrast with each other, and the cut, which doesn’t actually exist in itself, evokes a certain association: that would be a cinematic montage à la Godard, is that correct?

Negt: That’s correct.

Kluge: It creates an inherent movement.  

Negt: But the cut means that our senses and our mind …

Kluge: … are set in motion.

Negt: Are set in motion and thus do not actually recognize this line, this cut.  

Kluge: They fill in the gap.  

Negt: Exactly. They bridge the gap. You don’t actually see the cut.

Kluge: The Nothing in film is the Something in our mind.  

Negt: What is Nothing in film?

Kluge: The cut. That means, the film is really paused at that point. It does not actually create anything other than a contrast, a naked, uninterpreted, unbridgeable contrast. Hence the desire to bridge this gap because our minds …

Negt: Well obviously. It keeps going. No one can retrace the moment of the film cut in their mind.

Kluge: It’s not possible.

Negt: Yes.

Kluge: So, if I misspeak, and you fill in the correct word; or if I omit something and you complete the sentence, simply because we are both here. Then Nothing would be that which quasi magnetically attracts meaning.

Negt: That’s why I want to return to the Hegelian definition: These small units that can be defined as Nothings are specific Nothings. That means they are Something of a Nothing. People define this something as Nothing, but that’s not really true because it’s not actually a vacuum, there is not actually a gap.

Kluge: Because that doesn’t exist.

Negt: At least I think it’s impossible for our senses, for the way we have been equipped by evolution. That’s why there is this mythical fear of the horror vacui, of emptiness, of the gaps. The history of philosophy is full of reasonings for why there cannot be any gaps, any empty spots, any holes. And even filing or covering them with a substitute is better than to leave them empty.

Kluge: That is something that happens in our heads.

Negt: Yes. That’s the way we think. And it’s the way we feel. Holistically. We don’t feel in quants. We don’t piece quants together but have holistic concepts and immediately fill in the missing links. I think, gestalt psychology did get something right about our processes of perception and understanding. We immediately fill in gaps. In that sense, we jump from one Something, which is joined by a specific Nothing, to the next Something.

Kluge: As creators we are basically nothing-fillers, so to speak.

Negt: Yes.

Kluge: Could you please describe Hegel? Was he of short stature? He had big eyes, I believe.

Negt: I don’t know. I am sure he wasn’t a giant. I only have seen portraits of him in his robe.

Kluge: What does he look like?

Negt: He looks a little dressed up, as deacon and director. He has a wide and very expressive face, and he is obviously someone for whom this kind of reflective thought, public thought, the gradual completion of thoughts while speaking, as Kleist called it – someone who uses the power of speech by making his mind public, by revealing the processes of his mind …

Kluge: For Kleist, it‘s not that I know something, but that something within me knows something, and it can be dragged out by someone else’s magnetic force.

Negt: Kleist’s phrase of the gradual completion of thoughts while speaking is basically him saying: It doesn’t matter who’s sitting in front of me, if it’s a maid or a … a human face, a human reaction helps me develop my thoughts. And sometimes it inspires entirely new and spontaneous ideas. I am not simply sharing something.

Kluge: It’s a spider-like kind of work: creating a wide web and then lying in wait for the truth to emerge. Could you say that?

Negt: No, no waiting. The rhetorical dialectic this involves means that I turn and twist a concept long enough for it to absorb a new kind of meaning. Until it becomes clear what it has excluded and what it needs to absorb.

Kluge: Along the line of resistance.

Negt: Along the line of resistance. To stretch the limits of a concept long enough for it to meld with others – that’s a very specifically dialectic thought process, a negotiating kind of thinking. I have to look at the concept within the context of its claim to truth long enough and closely enough for it to declare eventually: I am not the entire truth. I have to include other concepts, different contexts of experience.

Text: WHAT DOES NOTHING MEAN? / Oskar Negt on a philosophical concept