The haunting of justice

Chapter 7

The haunting of justice

Heidegger’s reading of the Anaximander fragment in Der Spruch des Anaximander,1 and Derrida’s brief and very dense analysis thereof in Specters of Marx2 are indispensable in understanding the notion of law as absolute hospitality, specifically its spectral and hyper-political dimensions.3 Through a close reading of these two texts a further attempt will be made in this chapter to understand Derrida’s rethinking of the concept of justice, and how it ties in with Marxism, with Heidegger’s thinking on Being, as well as, to some extent, Levinas’s thinking on the other. We start in this introduction with a few brief remarks about Anaximander and the fragment remaining of his thinking as well as of the readings thereof by Heidegger and Derrida. Anaximander (c.610–547 BC) is usually referred to as a pre-Socratic thinker. Like Thales, Anaximander reflected on the origin or principle (arche) of that which exists. Whereas Thales thought that everything which exists derives from water, Anaximander regarded the apeiron, the limitless, indeterminate or indefinite as that from which all things derive. Simplicius, in his book On Aristotle’s Physics, drawing from Theophrastus, reports the saying of Anaximander as follows:

Anaximander of Miletos, son of Praxiades, a fellow-citizen and associate of Thales, said that the material cause [arche] and first element of things was the Infinite [apeiron], he being the first to introduce this name of the material cause. He says it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a substance different from them which is infinite [apeiron], from which arise all the heavens and the worlds within them. And into that from which things take their rise [genesis] they pass away [phthoran] once more, ‘as is meet [kata to chreon]; for they make reparation and satisfaction [didonai diken kai tisin] to one another for their injustice [allēlois tes adikias] according to the ordering of time,’ as he says in these somewhat poetical terms.4

The ancient Greeks did not use quotation marks, so that it is not perfectly clear where the actual words of Anaximander start and where they end. The quotation marks in the above passage were introduced later on. The translations of Nietzsche in a treatise completed in 1873 and published posthumously in 1903 and of Diels, also from 1903, referred to by Heidegger, are similar in most respects to that of Burnet. For our purposes the most important differences lie in Nietzsche’s translation of the phrase didonai … diken kai tisin allelois tes adikias as ‘they must pay penalty and be judged for their injustice’ and Diels as ‘they pay recompense and penalty to one another for their recklessness’ (Heidegger 1984a: 13). In Der Spruch Heidegger will challenge these traditional translations and readings of the fragment which are to the effect that it simply contemplates the laws of nature. As we will see in the second part of this chapter, Derrida in Specters commends Heidegger’s reading, although he raises certain concerns, which will inform his own reading of the fragment within the broader context of a contemplation of the legacy of Marx.5

Heidegger’s reading


Before enquiring in more detail into Heidegger’s reading of the Anaximander fragment, it is necessary to place his reading in a broader context. A somewhat more detailed description of Heidegger’s thinking and its relation to law was provided in Chapters 1 and 5. Only a brief outline, in so far as it is required for the further discussion, will be given here. As also appears from his other texts, and as already indicated earlier, Heidegger is of the view that metaphysics started with Platonism, when Being or the ‘is’ of beings is interpreted as the most universal of beings and as idea (Heidegger 1991: IV 164). Being is therefore interpreted on the basis of beings and with reference to (the essence of) beings. Being itself is not thought by metaphysics (Heidegger 1991: IV 207–9). Being is instead turned into a being, for example the Supreme Being as first cause or the subject of subjectivity. Metaphysics, as Heidegger points out, has a fundamentally onto-theological character. A further feature of metaphysics is its conceptuality which starts when with Plato, Being is understood as the essence of beings. The writings of the early Greek thinkers, including Anaximander, are according to Heidegger not as yet under the influence of metaphysics and that is why he attaches such importance to them.6 Their importance furthermore lies in the intimation they had of, as Heidegger (2000: 174–5) puts it, the ‘suddenness and uniqueness of Dasein, an intimation into which they were urged by Being itself’. This passage makes clear the close relation in Heidegger’s thinking, also after Being and Time, between Being and Dasein, without however making of Being a product of man.7 The early Greek thinkers, as Heidegger also points out elsewhere, were exposed to Being, which disclosed itself to them as physis, logos, dikē, moira and chreon (Heidegger 1984a: 55; 2000: 175). Heidegger’s reading is therefore an attempt to read the fragment in a non-conceptual way, an attempt to ‘think like the early Greeks’.

Heidegger sees metaphysics as finding its ultimate expression in Nietzsche’s interpretation of Being as will to power. Because the metaphysics of subjectivity here attains the peak of its development, the most extreme withdrawal of Being takes place (Heidegger 1991: IV 237, 241). The consequence of this is a profound uncertainty in man. Because man is in a covert way the abode of Being itself in its advent, the withdrawal of Being leads to uncertainty without man being able to discover the source and essence of this uncertainty. This leads to man seeking self-assurance in beings which are ‘surveyed with regard to what they can offer by way of new and continuous possibilities of surety’ (Heidegger 1991: IV 235, 238). This search for certainty finds its ultimate expression in modern technology as an attempt to secure permanence, but which instead points to man’s homelessness (Heidegger 1991: IV 248).8 The greater the danger that technology will slip away from human control, the more urgent the will to mastery becomes (Heidegger 1977: 5). The usual definitions of technology are that it is a means to an end or that it is an activity of man, both definitions being instrumental and anthropological in nature (Heidegger 1977: 4, 5). Heidegger seeks a definition of modern technology which brings it into relation with Being. For Heidegger (1977: 20), the essence of technology consists in enframing (Ge-stell) which refers to the challenging forth of man ‘to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing reserve’. Objective reality is in other words experienced as a kind of storeroom from which the subject can take and use without limitation to satisfy his endless needs (Goosen 2007: 336). Man himself is even treated in this way. Enframing is not however here to be understood as the essence of technology in the traditional way (Heidegger 1977: 30). Heidegger in other words seeks to give a non-metaphysical definition of technology. According to Heidegger (1977: 22), modern machine-power technology, although it only developed in the second half of the eighteenth century, is a result of representational or calculative thinking which has its origin in the seventeenth century. Enframing is in other words a result of the sending or destining of Being as objectifying representation (Heidegger 1977: 24, 29–30). Even in its concealment and precisely in its being concealed, Being nevertheless remains as promise of itself (Heidegger 1991: IV 226–7). Heidegger’s reflection on the early Greeks could be read as in part an attempt to address the question of modern technology. Heidegger does not, as is often thought, view technology simply negatively. He nevertheless sees an extreme danger in its essence. This danger, he notes, does not lie in the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology, but in its preventing man from entering ‘into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth’ (Heidegger 1977: 28). Technology, we could say in somewhat simpler terms, points to the rule of subjectivism, both individual and collective, in modernity, and at the same time, shows that subjectivity as well as the certainty and security that seemingly goes with it, are an illusion (Heidegger 1977: 152). In the danger of technology therefore also lies a saving power, according to Heidegger (1977: 32–3), as it may reveal to man his essential belonging to and responsibility in relation to what grants, preserves or safeguards (das Gewährende). Technology can in other words show a way beyond subjectivity.

In so far as Heidegger’s reading of the fragment is concerned, it is important to note that he is not engaging in a philological or psychological exposition, seeking to determine what was present to the thought of Anaximander (Heidegger 1984a: 18, 57). Such a reading would amount to a calculation and to the loss of thinking (Scott 1994: 131). Heidegger also does not seek to come to a more accurate formulation in his translation of Anaximander as compared to the standard translations (Scott 1994: 132). This does not however mean that his is an arbitrary translation. The question Heidegger seeks to answer is what comes to language in the fragment (Heidegger 1984a: 20). Heidegger’s ‘problem’ with traditional translations and interpretations of the fragment lies in their relation to Platonism. As he points out, Nietzsche categorises Anaximander as a pre-Platonic philosopher, and Diels refers to him as a pre-Socratic. Hegel, although he does not refer to the Anaximander fragment, regards the early Greek thinkers as pre-Aristotelian (Heidegger 1984a: 14–15). The philosophies of Plato and Aristotle are in this way used as a standard to consider and judge the early Greek thinkers. Platonic and Aristotelian concepts and representations are furthermore used to guide the interpretation of these thinkers. It is also mistaken, according to Heidegger, to believe that logical thinking can guide us in interpreting the fragment, as logic was developed only later in the Platonic and Aristotelian schools. Theophrastus, who lived until about 286 BC, as Heidegger furthermore points out, was a contemporary of Aristotle and the latter’s student. Both Aristotle and Theophrastus regarded the early thinkers as having contemplated the things of nature and as looking for the origins of beings in nature. This is also how these thinkers are thought of by Hegel and those after him. The word generally used for ‘nature’ – that is, physis – at the time of Aristotle however took on a different meaning than it had for the early Greek thinkers – the broad sense of the totality of being. Physis in Platonic/Aristotelian thinking designated a special region of beings separated from ethos and logos. These so-called reflections on nature of the early Greek thinkers are furthermore after Hegel thought of as inadequate in comparison with the thinking on nature developed in the Platonic and Aristotelian schools, the school of Stoicism and the schools of medicine (Heidegger 1984a: 16).

As already noted, the Anaximander fragment was copied by Simplicius in his commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, the commentary having been written in AD 530. Simplicius was a Neoplatonist, and the copy of the fragment derived from Theophrastus (c.371–286 BC) (Heidegger 1984a: 16). As Heidegger points out, from the time that Anaximander had pronounced his saying to the time that it was written down by Simplicius, more than 1,000 years had gone by. Heidegger at this juncture raises the question whether the fragment can still tell us something after 2,500 years. It being the oldest one left to us by the Western tradition in itself of course does not give it any more weight. If the thinking expressed in it however surpasses all that came after it, the fragment would have a claim to our attention (Heidegger 1984a: 18). As we saw above, according to Heidegger, the early Greek thinkers thought Being as such, whereas since Plato, Being has become the name for the essence of beings or the Supreme Being. Being is thought as constant presence, as presence at hand (Heidegger 2000: 206–8, 216, 220). The early thinkers however thought of Being as presencing and of truth as unconcealment (Heidegger 1977: 146).9 At this stage of Greek thinking, as Heidegger/Krell eloquently puts it, the ‘Being of beings is gathered (légesthai, logos) in the ultimacy of its destiny … The history of Being is gathered in this departure’ (Heidegger 1984a: 18). This destiny, as we saw above, finds its ultimate expression in Nietzsche’s will to power, according to Heidegger. In addition to its other concerns, Heidegger’s reading of the Anaximander fragment is an attempt to think the future in a way different from how it is done by historiography: predicting the future with reference to the past as determined by the present (Heidegger 1984a: 17). This, according to Heidegger, effectively amounts to the destruction of the future. Derrida’s thinking, as we will see below, closely ties in with that of Heidegger in this respect.10

The fragment as giving expression to the ontico–ontological difference

Heidegger (1984a: 19–20) acknowledges that his translation will appear violent. However, such ‘violence’ is necessary if one is to attempt to understand what comes to language in the fragment, that is to say if one reads it as a thinking of (the truth of) Being. The traditional interpretations of the Anaximander fragment are to the effect that it refers to the origin and decay of things and that it describes the process thereof. In these interpretations the fragment describes a kind of economy of exchange in nature. It would thus be a vague statement about an exchange of constructive and destructive moments, but without as yet an understanding of the laws of motion. It would furthermore be a kind of primitive natural science, a description of nature in human terms of a moral and juridical nature, by referring to justice and injustice, recompense and penalty, sin and retribution. Theophrastus’s final words in the paragraph cited above would then be understood as rightful criticism of Anaximander for his use of poetic terms to describe the processes of nature. Grammatically, Heidegger points out, the fragment consists of two clauses. For easy reference, the Greek version of the fragment is set out here:

ex on de he genesis esti tois ousi kai ten phthoran eis tauta ginesthai kata to chreon. didonai gar auta diken kai tisin allelois tes adikias kata ten tou chronou taxin.

The matter of ta onta which is at stake in the first clause (‘into that from which things take their rise they pass away once more’) literally refers to ‘things’ or ‘beings’ in their multiplicity. This is according to Heidegger not a reference to an arbitrary multiplicity, but to the multiplicity of beings in their totality (at 20–1). ‘Beings’ is furthermore not to be understood here as referring only to things or to the things of nature as the traditional translations seem to suggest. It refers also to ‘[m]an, things produced by man … the situation or environment effected and realized by the deeds and omissions of men … [as well as] daimonic and divine things’ (at 21). These are not simply also in being (or beings), as Heidegger notes, but are even more so in being (seiender) than are things of nature (at 21; Heidegger 2003: 305). Heidegger is here clearly alluding to his existential analysis in Being and Time of Dasein as the only being open to Being. The Aristotelian–Theophrastian assumption that ta onta is to be understood as a reference to the things of nature in a narrow sense is therefore groundless. This is also the case with the criticism that what Anaximander says here about nature and which should therefore have been expressed in scientific terms is imperfectly expressed by him in moral-juridical language. In interpreting the fragment one must furthermore abandon the idea that Anaximander is speaking here with reference to the traditional disciplines of ethics and jurisprudence. This does not however mean that Anaximander did not as yet have an understanding of law and ethics (Sittlichkeit) (at 21; Heidegger 2003: 305). The distinctions we currently draw between disciplines such as ethics, jurisprudence, physics, biology and psychology, were however not as yet made at the time of Anaximander. This does not mean that what is expressed in Anaximander’s saying is simply some vague indeterminacy. The words dike, adikia and tisis in the fragment, Heidegger furthermore notes, do not have a limited disciplinary meaning, but rather a broad or rich signification which cannot simply be confined to the traditional disciplines. They are specifically used ‘to bring to language the manifold totality in its essential unity’ (at 22). What Anaximander says is therefore anything but primitive, a confusion between disciplines, or simply an anthropomorphic interpretation of the world.

We can only enter into dialogue with the Greek thinkers when listening occurs, Heidegger notes. This requires that the words which are usually understood as referring to ‘beings’ and ‘to be’ are heard in a different way. These words include ‘ta onta’ (beings), ‘einai’ (to be), ‘estin’ (is) and ‘on’ (being) (at 23). Heidegger emphasises that he does not wish to question the correctness of the traditional way in which these words are translated. He however asks whether we have really thought what the words ‘being’ and ‘to be’ mean in our own languages and furthermore whether these translations are sufficient in order to understand what the Greeks were addressing with these words (at 24). According to Heidegger, in early Greek thinking, Being still illuminates itself in beings which makes a claim to a certain essence of man (at 25). This essence of man unfolds historically as a sending of Being. Being at the same time grants or safeguards (wahren) this essence and releases it without the essence separating itself from Being (at 25). The reason for the forgetting of Being in Western thinking lies in the fateful withdrawal of Being as it reveals itself in beings or in Being’s holding on to its truth (at 26). In its illumination of beings, Being sets them adrift in errancy. The inability of man to see himself, Heidegger notes, ‘corresponds to the self-concealing of the lighting of Being’ (at 26). World history could be said to be a result of this keeping to itself or epoche of Being (at 26–7). Moreover, as the beginning of the epoch of Being is ‘Greek’, the important question in translating the fragment is whether it speaks to us of onta in their Being (at 27). Should this be so, the fragment would of course have a claim to our attention. Heidegger clearly believes that this question should be answered in the affirmative. We have to look at ta onta not simply in terms of what it expresses, Heidegger points out, but in terms of its source which is also the source from which the fragment speaks (at 28). It is therefore necessary to at first remain outside the fragment so as to, as Heidegger puts it, ‘experience what ta onta, thought in Greek, says’ (at 28).

Remaining for that reason for the moment ‘outside’ the fragment, Heidegger first considers the question of its authenticity. He notes that it is not clear from Simplicius’s quotation of the Anaximander fragment where it starts or where it ends (at 28). Based on the words used, some of which according to Heidegger are Aristotelian in structure and tone rather than archaic, as well as the practice of quotation of the Greeks, he concludes that only the following can be regarded as an actual quotation from Anaximander: ‘kata to chreon. didonai gar auta diken kai tisin allelois tes adikias’ (at 28–9).11 It is also precisely this part, as Heidegger points out, which is regarded as ‘rather poetic’ by Theophrastus, which therefore hints at their ‘original’ nature (at 30). This does not however mean that the rest of the paragraph of Simplicius has to be completely disregarded: it can still serve as secondary testimony concerning Anaximander’s thinking (at 30). This brings us to the question of how the words genesis (originating) and phthora (passing away) in the part left out are to be understood. Must they in other words be understood as pre-conceptual words (taking account of the fact that conceptuality is possible only from the moment that Being is interpreted as idea, and from then on is unavoidable (at 29)) or as Platonic–Aristotelian conceptual terms (at 30)? In light of the above, the answer to this question is evident. Heidegger thus takes the view that genesis and phthora are not to be understood in the modern sense of development and decline, but in the light of physis (Being) ‘as ways of luminous rising and decline’ (at 30). Although genesis can be interpreted as originating, it should therefore be understood here as ‘a movement which lets every emerging being abandon concealment and go forward into unconcealment’ (at 30). Similarly phthora must be understood as a going which ‘abandons unconcealment, departing and withdrawing into concealment’ (at 30).

In light of the reasons for the exclusion of the first section of what is traditionally thought as making out part of the fragment, Heidegger notes that we cannot be sure whether Anaximander used the words on or ta onta, although there are no indications against this (at 30–1). In so far as the word auta in the second clause is concerned, because of what it says and also because of its reference back to kata to chreon, it must necessarily be understood as a reference to ‘being-in-totality experienced in a pre-conceptual way’, or to beings. A more difficult question is what ta onta refers to when account is taken of the above (at 31). Heidegger points out that ta onta, with all its modifications (estin, en, estai, einai), speaks everywhere in the Greek language. In terms of its subject matter, its time and the realm to which it belongs, it provides us with an opportunity to consider something which lies outside philosophy (at 31–2). In Plato and Aristotle, on and onta become conceptual terms, from which the terms ontic and ontological are derived (at 32). The word on however has a double function: it refers both to the ‘to be’ of a being and to a ‘being’ which is (at 32). The ontico–ontological difference, or the distinction between ‘to be’ and ‘a being’ lies concealed in on, Heidegger notes (at 32). The words on and onta are presumably truncated forms of the original words eon and eonta which are used inter alia by Parmenides and Heraclitus (at 32–3). The ‘e’ which relates on and onta to estin and einai are thus only to be found in these original words (at 32). The word eon (usually translated as ‘being’) is not only the singular form of eonta (usually translated as ‘beings’) but refers to Being or as Heidegger expresses it, to ‘what is singular as such, what is singular in its numerical unity and what is singularly and unifyingly one before all number’ (at 33).

The word eonta is explored further by Heidegger with reference to a passage in Homer’s Iliad where the seer Kalchas is called on to explain the reasons for the plague sent by Apollo to the Greek camp. It reads as follows:

And among them stood up

Kalchas, Thestor’s son, far the best of the bird interpreters,

who knew all that is, is to be, or once was [ta t’ eonta, ta t’ essomena, pro t’ eonta]

who guided into the land of Ilion the ships of the Achaeans through that seercraft of his own that Phoibos Apollo gave him.

(at 33)

What appears from this passage is first that a distinction is drawn between ta t’ eonta (that which is in being), ta t’ essomena (that which will be) and pro t’ eonta (the being that once was) (at 34). The ta eonta thus refers to being in the sense of the present. The ‘present’ (gegenwärtig) is however not here to be understood in the modern sense of a ‘now’ as a moment in time, or in the sense of an object which is ‘present’ to a subject. ‘Present’ must be understood in terms of the essence of eonta, and not vice versa. Of importance in this respect is that the word eonta refers also to the past and the future, namely to beings that are not presently present. This is borne out by the reference the Greeks made to that which is presently present as ta pareonta, meaning ‘alongside’, in the sense of coming alongside into unconcealment. That which is present (gegenwärtig) is therefore not to be understood in the sense of gegen (a subject vis-à-vis an object) but rather in the sense of Gegend, that is ‘an open expanse … of unconcealment, into which and within which whatever comes along lingers’ (at 34). That which is presently present (ta eonta) cannot therefore be understood in isolation from what is absent. As Heidegger puts it, ‘[e]ven what is absent is something present, for as absent from the expanse, it presents itself in unconcealment’ (at 35). What is presently present is also only such in its lingering awhile – that is, in its arriving in-between a double absence. This of course differs from the metaphysical understanding of Being which excludes any absence from Being (de Boer 1997: 155). The experience of the seer Kalchas, as Heidegger points out, consists in a gathering of all things present and absent (at 35–6). He in other words has an understanding of Being as presencing rather than as constant presence – that is, the metaphysical understanding.

Being, as the presencing of what is present, Heidegger contends, must be understood as already truth in itself (at 37). Truth must not however here be understood in the metaphysical sense as a property of beings or of Being. Truth in other words does not refer to a characteristic of divine or human cognition or a property in the sense of a quality. Instead, truth must in light of the above be understood as the gathering that clears and shelters. Heidegger spells out the following implications of this understanding of Being for that which presences:

What is presently present in unconcealment lingers in unconcealment as in an open expanse. Whatever lingers (or whiles) in the expanse proceeds to it from unconcealment and arrives in unconcealment. But what is present is arriving or lingering insofar as it is also already departing from unconcealment toward concealment. What is presently present lingers awhile. It endures in approach and withdrawal. Lingering is the transition from coming to going: what is present is what in each case lingers. Lingering in transition, it lingers still in approach and lingers already in departure.

(at 37)

The (excluded) section directly preceding the fragment should therefore be understood not as expressing simply the passing away or inevitable destruction of things as appears at first sight, but rather as giving expression to their transitional structure (de Boer 2000: 178). Underlying and pervading the lingering of things in presence is their arising out of and returning to absence or unconcealment and is again to be compared with the metaphysical approach of excluding from what is present all absence (Heidegger 1984a: 37; de Boer 2000: 178). This clearly assists with an understanding of Being itself, namely as a presence which is thoroughly pervaded by absence (Heidegger 1984a: 37; de Boer 2000: 178). We could also say that Being must be understood as presencing embedded in a twofold absence (Heidegger 1984a: 41). This amounts to a jointure (Fuge) between presencing and its twofold absence (Heidegger 1984a: 41; 2003: 327). In the words of Heidegger: ‘What is present emerges by approaching and passes away by departing; it does both at the same time, indeed because it lingers’ (at 41–2). This analysis also informs Heidegger’s translation of dikē: not as justice as is usually the case, but as joint or juncture (Fug or Fuge) or as another name for Being (Heidegger 2000: 177, 179).

Heidegger continues his analysis by pointing out that also in Homer, ta eonta does not refer exclusively to the things in nature or to objects of human representation (at 38). This of course ties in with his (Heidegger’s) reading of the reference to ‘beings’ in the Anaximander fragment as referring not only to the things in nature. Homer applies the term eonta inter alia to ‘the Achaean’s encampment before Troy, the god’s wrath, the plague’s fury, funeral pyres, [and] the perplexity of the leaders’. Man too belongs to eonta