Éris: everything is continuous conflict, 3

The one, the many, chaos, and conflict

Schopenhauer

‘…we will find that the necessity or need for cognition in general arises from the plurality and the separate existence of beings, i.e. from individuation. Imagine only a single being existed: it would not need cognition, because there would be nothing different from itself, nothing whose existence it would therefore need to take in indirectly, through cognition, i.e. image and concept. By contrast, given the plurality of beings, each individual finds itself in a state of isolation from all others, and the necessity of cognition stems from this’.[1]

Schopenhauer goes on to write, ‘beyond appearance, in the essence itself of all things, to which time and space and therefore plurality as well must be foreign, there can be no cognition’.[2]

Anaximander

T15 (DK 12A9; KRS 101): ‘…the first principle and element of existing things was the boundless [apeiron]; it was [Anaximander] who originally introduced the name for the first principle [archē]. He says that it is not water or any of the other so-called elements, but something different from them, something boundless by nature, which is the source of all the heavens and the worlds in them. And he says that the original sources of existing things are also what existing things die back into “according to necessity; for they give justice and reparation to one another for their injustice in accordance with the ordinance of Time’ […] and so he has creation take place not as a result of any of the elements undergoing qualitative change, but as a result of the opposites being separated off by means of motion, which is eternal.’[3]

T17 (DK 12A16; KRS 103): ‘Some make the underling stuff single, and identify it within of the three [water, air, or fire] […]. Then they have condensation and rarefaction generate everything else, and so they arrive at a plurality of objects… Others, however, claim that the one contains oppositions, which are then separated out. This is the view of Anaximander […] whose underlying stuff is simultaneously one and many.’[4]

T20 (DK 12A15, KRS 108): ‘…they take the infinite not to be subject to generation or destruction, on the grounds that it is a kind of principle, because anything generated must have a last part that is generated, and there is also a point at which the destruction of anything ends. That is why, as I say, the infinite is taken not to have an origin, but to be the origin of everything else – to contain everything a steer everything, as has been said by those thinkers who do not recognize any other causes (such as love or intelligence) apart from the infinite. They also call it the divine, on the grounds that it is immortal and imperishable; on this Anaximander the majority of the natural scientists are in agreement.’[5]

Massimo Cacciari illustrates this through drama, in which a theatre spectator observes the action, the drân,[6] projected against a backdrop of the boundless, apeiron, and that the spectator also senses to be common to him/herself. The observer both feels the drama to be part of their own lived experience, of concrete events in struggle, at the same time as never entirely containable by that experience: ‘We comprehend it only as “something” by which we are comprehended. […] the drama, which represents the polemos of our existence, would lose all meaning were it not to signal, in every fibre, towards this supreme connection.’[7]

Apollo and Marsyas and the Judgement of Midas (1581), Melchior Meier. MOMA, New York

Ovid

‘Before the sea was, and the lands, and the sky that hangs over all, the face of Nature showed alike in her whole round, which state have men called chaos: a rough, unordered mass of things, nothing at all save lifeless bulk and warring seeds of ill-matched elements heaped in one. No sun as yet shone forth upon the world, nor did the waxing moon renew her slender horns; not yet did the earth hang poised by her own weight in the circumambient air, nor had the ocean stretched her arms along the far reaches of the lands. And, though there was both land and sea and air, no one could tread that land, or swim that sea; and the air was dark. No form of things remained the same; all objects were at odds, for within one body cold things strove with hot, and moist with dry, soft things with hard, things having weight with weightless things. God—or kindlier Nature—composed this strife; for he rent asunder land from sky, and sea from land, and separated the ethereal heavens from the dense atmosphere. When thus he had released these elements and freed them from the blind heap of things, he set them each in its own place and bound them fast in harmony.’[8]

Le génie du mal, St Paul’s Cathedral Liège (Guillaume Geefs, 1848)

As the rest of Metamorphosis makes evident, such resultant ‘harmony’ is anything but peaceful. Harmony can just as easily be thought of through polemos, as that which gathers, for does not struggle relate those elements in struggle? Whether it be workers and bosses, Antigone and Creon, partisan bruigades and the repubblichini of Salò, the struggle unites as much as it divides. How to think that ‘unity’ underpinning conflict (simultaneous with it? presupposed by it? resultant from it?) is what is at stake in thought as far back as the Pre-Socratics. Drawing on the work on Anaximander by Carlo Diano, Cacciari argue that the ‘divine prohibits the entity from remaining [stare], it manifests itself as connection, harmony, polemos, that the logos is laboriously called upon to “gather-up”’[9]. Interestingly, this same association of harmony with polemos and with the demonic-divine is also there is Mann’s Dr. Faustus, where it is precisely the formal asceticism of the ‘new music’, the ‘glacial solitude’[10] with its perfect, mathematical – contrapuntal, dodecaphonic – purity that is ‘harmonic’. Against this is the decadence of the body, of human-all-too-human desire, flesh, and corruption. Whereas the ‘great bourgeois’ tradition of the nineteenth century advanced through the transfiguratory mediation of nature and spirit, represented in the figure of the narrator Severus Zeitbloom, Adrian Leverkühn experiences the ‘contrast’ in ‘all of its intensity’. Whereas he assigns the diabolic to life, spontaneity, nature, his ‘obsession for purity’[11] leads to a negation life that is truly diabolical. Such an ‘absolute negation is incapable of reconciling itself with what it denies’,[12] thereby undermining the ordering role of polemos-as-ordering-connection (harmony). What breaks down here, for Mann, in the figure of Leverkühn, is polemos as harmoniser, is negation as mediation, as the dialectic of recuperation that characterises the ‘virtuous’ bourgeois forms of capitalist development integrating nature, labour, science in an ever-expanding process of accumulation. As Schopenhauer writes, ‘beyond appearance, in the essence itself of all things, to which time and space and therefore plurality as well must be foreign, there can be no cognition’, and this is the realm of ‘mere will, blind urge’.[13] From which there is no dialectical recuperation. 

While this is true, the atemporality of this blind urge has not a little of the mythical about it and, while it breaks with the pattern of conciliatory negations (mediation), the absoluteness of the negation of polemic-harmony, risks falling into ‘obscurantist mythology’.[14] The problem is not resolved: how to think conflict outside the forms of its recuperation?


[1]  Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2018, p. 287.

[2] Schopenhauer, p. 288.

[3] Theophrastus (fr. 226a Fortenbaugh, et al.) in Simiplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG IX, 24.14-25 Diels, cited in The First Philosophers, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2009, p. 14.

[4] Aristotle, Physics 187a 12-23 Ross, cited in The First Philosophers, p. 15.

[5] Aristotle, Physics 203b 7-15 Ross, cited in The First Philosophers, pp. 15-16.

[6] The editors of the Norton Critical Edition of Aristotle’s Poetics point out that the ‘word drama (a thing done) is derived from drân (to do)’ (Aristotle, Poetics, edited and translated by M. Zerba and D. Gorman, Norton & Company: New York, 2018, p. 5 n. 1). Cacciari makes much of this in Hamletica (a translation, Hamletics, is forthcoming from Seagull Books).

[7]  M. Cacciari, ‘Filosofia e tragedia. Sulle trace di Carlo Diano’, in C. Diano, Il pensiero greco da Anassimandro agli stoici, Bollati Boringhieri, Turin 2007, p. 15.

[8] Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book I, F. J. Miller, Loeb Library, 1971, pp. 3-5.

[9]  Cacciari, p. 15.

[10] T. Perlini, ‘Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus’ [1973] in Attraverso il nichilismo, Aragno Editore, Turin 2015, p. 373.

[11] Perlini, p. 382.

[12] Perlini, p. 383.

[13] Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2008, p. 203.

[14] Perlini, 396.

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