Infrapolitical Reflection: Schürmann and the Existential Durchbruch

Humberto Gonzalez Nuñez
Villanova University

Volume 11, 2017


Reiner Schürmann’s opening phrase to his magnum opusBroken Hegemonies (2001), describes the book as “a contribution to the age old “doctrine of principles” (3). Upon perusing his entire œuvre, we identify a crucial focal point: the tension between existence and principle. According to Schürmann, the philosophical tradition has been primarily defined and preoccupied by the enterprise of searching and securing stable principles of thought. However, our current epoch seems to almost be defined by the exhaustion and withering of all principles of thought. While principles seem to have exhausted their efficacy and withered away as the main determinants of the horizon of possibility of our epoch, Schürmann observes that we should raise the pertinent question of whether thinking has caught up with this loss of all ultimate referents.

Leaving the question unanswered, Schürmann describes the task of thinking in our current epoch as follows: “To think is to linger on the conditions in which one is living, to linger on the site where we live. Thus to think is a privilege of that epoch which is ours, provided that the essential fragility of the sovereign referents becomes evident to it” (3). To think, then, is to be attuned to the time and the conditions under which we both think and act. In describing thought as such, Schürmann is clearly not offering any specific preference to philosophy as such. As a matter of fact, Schürmann is quite critical of the philosophical industry throughout the general introduction and conclusion of Broken Hegemonies. Instead, Schürmann gives precedence to the kind of thought that can achieve “the task of showing the tragic condition beneath all principled constructions” (3). In other words, the kind of thought that seems to be adequate for our current epoch is described as the one capable of revealing the fissure in principial constructions.

While Schürmann’s description of thought relies primarily on this ability to identify the exhaustion and withering away of principles, his project is traversed by another exigency that can perhaps be described as more affirmative. Schürmann offers us a glimpse of this other side of thought in posing the following question: “What, then, is at stake in the fantasmatic “addition” and in every sobering elimination? Could it be life?” (4). In this passage, Schürmann clearly defines what is at stake in thinking through the exhaustion and withering of principles—the emergence of life. Existence appears as that which has sub-ceded all principial constructions. The consequence of the emergence of existence is that thinking must attend to the manner in which existence emerges after the exhaustion and withering of principles. Once again, philosophy does not offer much aid in thinking existence in this register since its aim has traditionally been understood as the incessant search of edifying principles. Schürmann suggests that philosophy’s main obstacle derives from the fact that it does not arrive to the realization that the justifications of principles are fantasmatic. Insofar as principles unify phenomena in a specific movement, Schürmann terms them hegemonic fantasms. With this description, Schürmann has offered us a renewed identification of what poses an obstacle to thought.

The main impediment that hegemonic fantasms pose for thought is the “price [with which] fantasms render the world livable” (7). As long as hegemonic fantasms subsume existence, thought is unable to think the appearance of the singular existent. Rather, thought must be limited to thinking the particular, which is as problematic as the hegemonic fantasms, because they attempt to produce a simplified depiction of the singular existent. In this context, Schürmann’s whole œuvre can be understood as an attempt to think the refusal of paying the fantasmatic price by thinking the singular existent against the hegemonic principles that subsume existence. In the present essay, we follow Schürmann’s reading of one of his principal interlocutors concerning the problem of existence and principle—Meister Eckhart—with the aim of understanding the manner in which Schürmann begins to develop the tension between existence and principle. While we will focus primarily on Schürmann’s reading of Eckhart, we will also develop our interpretive reading of Schürmann throughout by referring to his other main interlocutor—Martin Heidegger. Our main aim is not to perform a merely exegetical reading of Schürmann’s œuvre, but to determine the manner in which he develops his reflections on existence and principle. Finally, our intention is to critically engage Schürmann’s project in conversation with the project of infrapolitics since the latter is also a relevant attempt to develop this theme of existence and principle.

Schürmann’s Reading of Eckhart: Detachment and the Non-Simple

In the introduction to Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy (2001), Schürmann offers the guiding thread informing his reading of Eckhart by describing the force of the latter’s thought as an attempt “to reconcile philosophical thought and a certain type of experience of life” (xvii). To think through the possible philosophical articulations of Eckhart’s sermons exposes us to a kind of thinking that is attuned to the conditions of existence. However, even in this early work, philosophy does not seem to immediately offer particular directions to experience of life. If this were the case, then the relationship between philosophy and existence would still be one of the former subsuming the latter. On the contrary, Schürmann nuances the relationship between philosophy and experience of life such that the two are related in an intricately complicated fashion. The nuance between the two modes of thought appears most clearly when Schürmann focuses on Eckhart’s discussion of releasement. One of the merits of Eckhart’s thought is in discussing releasement where, according to Schürmann, he brings together “the imperative of a moral course… and the infinitive of a metaphysical discourse” (xx). Schürmann will attempt to develop this bringing together of the imperative with the speculative throughout his reading of Eckhart.

Before he even begins to discuss the possible reconciliation between speculative and imperative discourses, Schürmann introduces the two figures that reveal the tension between these two discourses in Eckhart’s writings—attachment and detachment. Under the figure of attachment, the existent understands itself as determined or defined by certain attributes. While attachment occurs as part of the regular course of the existent’s life, Schürmann’s main interest lies with Eckhart’s description of detachment. Eckhart’s reflections on detachment are heavily influenced by the Aristotelian tradition of the receptive intellect (13). Eckhart’s main Aristotelian influence is clearly De Anima. In the context of his sermons, Eckhart describes receptivity through the imagery of virginity and that receptivity is achieved by learning how to detach from any particular image. Detachment, then, appears as the existential praxis that allows for an interruption of the mechanism of attachment. The demand of detachment occurs because our attachments to certain representations prevent us from free receptivity to other images. In Schürmann’s analysis, detachment emerges as one of Eckhart’s crucial notions since it allows for receptivity and freedom that would otherwise be impossible under our stringent attachments. Detachment allows for another relation to existence that is not solely determined by the images we are given.

One way of thinking through detachment as a figure of thought suggests that it performs a kind of reconciliation between speculative and imperative discourse. In Schürmann’s description, detachment involves both a speculative moment of deconstructing and disengaging all representations and an imperative moment that is directed toward the life of the existent. In other words, Eckhart’s description of detachment describes detachment, but also carries the imperative ‘learn how to detach yourself!’ This possible reconciliation of speculative and imperative discourse is significant because it allows us to comprehend detachment as not merely another theoretical concept. In part, this recognition becomes much clearer when we attend to the freedom made possible by detachment, specifically in the temporal shift it allows. The temporality of attachment and detachment are described by Schürmann in the following passage: “A man attached to things is stretched between a “before” and an “after,” or between past and future. He lives in duration, while detachment dwells in “this present now” (in disem gengenwertigen nu). A detached man lives in the instant” (14). We see that the temporality of attachment is such that the determinate ‘this or that’ takes hold of the existent and effaces any other possibility. The life of the existent is exhaustively determined by the particular conditions, which the existent accepts as given. In contrast, the temporality of detachment occurs in the displacement of the ‘this or that’ in the ever new instant as the possibility of the future. In our analysis, then, detachment refers to a practico-speculative moment in which the existent recognizes receptivity in the instant of the now as the possibility of free engagement with existence.

In elaborating the description of detachment as a practico-speculative moment, Schürmann introduces us to a decisive distinction between two forms of thought. These two forms of thought are described in the following manner: “The type of thought that urges a path upon existence can be called “imperative” thought; this is opposed to “indicative” thought, which apprehends the real and establishes a noetics of it” (29). While we can clearly identify the difference between imperative and indicative thought—the former is attentive to a concrete existential demand, while the latter is concerned with grasping the real in order to produce a knowledge of it—the decisive difference, especially for our purposes, occurs when Schürmann identifies the different understanding of being produced by each one. In Schürmann’s view, the different understanding of being proceeds as follows: “according to the first [imperative thought], being is known when a concrete existence assumes the path of detachment, which is the condition and the sole content at the same time of its understanding; according to the second [indicative thought], being is represented as the totality of objects comprehended by the mind” (29). The consequence of these differing conceptions of being is that indicative thought understands being solely as an object to be grasped exhaustively in its entirety by the operation of the intellect, while imperative thought considers being as a concrete engagement that exposes us to possibility and the future (to-come). While we do not wish to reify this distinction, it seems clear that imperative thought offers a different conception of thinking that is able to unwrench the difference between speculative and imperative discourse. In its attunement to existence as a concrete engagement, imperative thought reveals the possibility of another kind of response to the question of being, namely, one that involves the entirety of one’s existence.

While Schürmann’s articulation in Wandering Joy of this difference between indicative and imperative thought is clear, the consequences of this difference are perhaps most clearly described in Broken Hegemonies. In this mature work, Schürmann describes imperative thought as that which breaks through all hegemonic articulations—we describe this breakthrough as opening towards the post-hegemonic—referring to a principium because it “strikes the principial regime in its originary condition” (320).[1] Imperative thought, according to Schürmann, disarticulates the hegemonic projects and fantasms by exposing these attempts to the limit of all hegemonic subsumption. The limit of hegemonic subsumption occurs in the exposure to the differend, which constitutes the limit of appropriation and expropriation and the opening towards what Schürmann identifies as the singularization to come. Singularization to come is the uncovering of concrete existence in which the existent is exposed to his/her singularity, which only takes place in the “departure from the principial strategy” (320). In order to illustrate this departure from principiality, Schürmann uses the term ‘an-archic’ in this qualified sense (i.e. an-archic refers to the absence of archē or principle). In this manner, Schürmann introduces the consequence of thinking existence as that which emerges in the withdrawal from principial regimes. Imperative thought, in revealing an other possibility for the thought of existence, allows for a renewed engagement with existence as that which resists principial strategies and needs to be attended to in this other manner.

In his mature reading of Eckhart, Schürmann describes Eckhart’s strategy of detachment as dealing with this tension between existence and principle in a more explicit register. Schürmann offers a more nuanced description of Eckhart’s notion of detachment by describing the strategy in the following manner: “In non-attachment, the natural metaphysician remains what it is: a metaphysician of nature. But he retracts absolute theticism. He posits the proper, and yet he lets it be” (320). In other words, Eckhart’s notion of detachment offers a wholly other strategy while not doing so at the same time. We could describe Eckhart’s strategy as offering a minimal adjustment to existential thought. The movement in Eckhart’s thought is complicated and requires a subtle eye, but, once perceived, the consequences are significant. In allowing for the minimal adjustment in the order of things through letting-be, Eckhart is able to think the proper without it subsuming existence. In other words, Eckhart, according to Schürmann, is able to describe the proper life without overdetermining its content. It is precisely this strategy—bringing together the discourse of the proper and letting-be (speculative and imperative)—that Schürmann desires to follow in his attempt to think the tension between existence and principle.

A possible criticism of Schürmann’s reading and endorsement of Eckhart derives from the use of the latter’s mystical reflections as a method of uncovering this other thought of existence. In other words, the criticism directed at Schürmann would be that of offering a mystical withdrawal from the world in lieu of a genuinely engaged thought of concrete existence. However, we can clearly show how this criticism stems from a misreading of some of Schürmann’s interpretations of Eckhart’s mystical thought. As mentioned, the importance of detachment as existential praxis resides in the step-back offered to the existent in the minimal adjustment of the order of things, which allows another engagement with existence. In this vein, Schürmann writes, “To detach oneself is thus to turn to things and ourselves to the extent that they are actual; it is to turn from them and ourselves to the extent that these are bearers of a speculatively graspable being-such. Non-attachment is not a little piece of speculative mysticism” (323). This passage clearly describes the praxis of detachment such that it cannot be understood as a mystical removal from the world as if one would no longer have anything to do with it. Rather, detachment permits a specific turning that solicits a renewed engagement with free singular existence in this modified perspective. The movement of detachment, then, unwrenches existence in favor of letting existence be. Schürmann confirms our interpretive reading when he writes, “Non-attachment keeps open the differend between the principle that integrates phenomena and the origin that dephenomenalizes them, singularizes them” (324). Thus, detachment allows the existent to remain within the manifestation of being as event [Ereignis] while maintaining the differend that defines the tragic condition.

In identifying detachment as permitting a concrete engagement with free singular existence, we should indicate the importance that Schürmann attributes to thinking being as the non-simple. Schürmann describes the problem as follows: “On the two roads of promotion—of filling up or evacuation—we deny the indeterminate, and we exalt the same simplicity” (326). Schürmann’s claim is that we tend to subsume existence as indeterminate under the banner of simplicity, whether it is in the name of a principle or some other hegemonic fantasm. The exaltation of simplicity occurs as a result of the philosophical industry’s success in reducing existence to principles. In order to resist this simplification, Schürmann suggests thinking through the indeterminacy of existence. Schürmann’s thought of existence falls on the side of being as non-simple, as opposed to the description of being according to simplified principles. By attending to being as non-simple, that is, as event [Ereignis], Schürmann is able to offer a perspective that denies the simple in order to expose existence to the concreteness of the indeterminate.

An Interpretive Coda: Schürmann and The Existential Durchbruch

In confronting the upshot of Schürmann’s reading of Eckhart, we can perhaps most concretely identify the exigency of his thought through a specific question: What to do? Throughout his various works, Schürmann exposes the failures of all attempts at articulating an a priori determination of action. Whether it be through an analysis of Eckhart’s sermons or Heidegger’s philosophical œuvre, Schürmann’s response remains consistent and finds its maturity in Broken Hegemonies where he writes, “The single ground that is not a common ground proves to be unfit to serve as the directing eidos, as the aim, as the “why” (327). In other words, Schürmann responds to the question ‘What to do?’ with nothing other than the deconstruction of all principiality as an experience of unconditional exposure to existence—the singular ground. Only this exposure to free singular existence (which should not be understood as offering an eidos, aim, or principle) allows for an answer to the question concerning action. Schürmann asserts this point with utmost clarity when he writes, “The imperative of “without why” dispossesses the aprioric imagination” (327). By deconstructing teleology through the exposure to concrete existence, Schürmann allows for another relation to action and thought that does not base itself on the construction of ideal principles. To conceive of this specific operation is to take the notion of letting-be to its utmost radical conclusions, that is, the concrete destitution of teleology and principiality in favor of a free and singular engagement with existence—being as non-simple.

We turn to a reformulation of the question ‘What to do?’ in order to further elucidate the upshot of Schürmann’s reading of Eckhart—‘What “should” one do?’ In responding to this question, Schürmann offers a clear answer: “annihilate one’s own being, render indeterminate the stratified eidetic order; we should recognize as primary this dissension by which the imagination places us in nature and gives us the knowledge that anticipates expropriation and thus, literally, death: death plain and simple—the knowledge that wrenches us out of nature” (330). To recognize the dissension in being allows for the possibility of a thought (a knowledge, in Schürmann’s words) that no longer deals with attachment or appropriation, but with the fundamental expropriation—death. At this point, we should recall Heidegger’s dictum in Being and Time concerning death as “always essentially my own. And it indeed signifies a peculiar possibility of being in which it is absolutely a matter of the being of my own Da-sein. In dying, it becomes evident that death is ontologically constituted by mineness and existence” (223). We can hold very few doubts that Schürmann’s reference to death in the preceding passage is heavily influenced by Heidegger’s reflections on death. In the case of Heidegger’s statement on death, we should recall that death is a moment of singularization for, in death, I become singularly entangled with my existence. The further context of the passage from Being and Time is that it is located in §47 of Division II Chapter 1, which deals with ‘the possibility of grasping Da-sein as a whole’. In other words, death reveals my singular and finite relation to existence. For Schürmann, the same process of singularization is at work in the notion of death. It is this singularization that Schürmann wishes to take further as a constitutive part of all affirmations of life. In his description of the double bind, Schürmann has in mind the double pull of natality and morality as those two moments of tension that reveal the analogous tension between principle and existence.

A fundamental insight into Schürmann’s project occurs in Broken Hegemonies following his references to the Eckhartian notion of the durchbruch. Schürmann’s description of the relevance of the durchbruch occurs in the following passage: “Piercing into the godhead is to escape altogether from imitation, from deficiency, from mediation, from identity, from measurement, and from subsumption—from the whole polymorphous work of relation” (332). The durchbruch refers to the moment when detachment has been taken to the limit of reflection and the glimpse of something other occurs. Through detachment as existential praxis, the existent finds a zone of destitution that can no longer appeal to any frame of reference. The existent has unworked [desœuvré] the machinery of relation and its attempts to fasten the existent to a particular relationality. The unworking of the existent has no real aim other than that of recognizing what Schürmann identifies as “an excess… [Which] has nothing to do with the ends of desire or some other power. Rather, it is an excess that destitutes measure and power” (332). The excess that Schürmann refers to is precisely the free and singular exposure to existence. In this exposure, existence can be understood as deconstructing factical life[2]. Through this process of unworking, the existent actualizes what Schürmann understands as an important knowledge: “Whoever knows that no noun can be the last word has recognized his norm in the absolute freedom that is the act of being” (333). In other words, the existent that has recognized its relation to existence as free and singular has pierced through not only towards freedom, but also towards being, which at this point refer to the same thing[3]. The knowledge the existent has obtained is that existence is not a substantial category (i.e. with a particular noun that determines its manifestation). This non-substantivable knowledge that the existent arrives at is part of the passage of the durchbruch.

The non-substantivable knowledge that occurs through the durchbruch is an elaboration of the need “to speak in the imperative mode” (333). In the imperative mode, the existent recognizes that “it is a matter of retaining the freedom that alone is freedom “for” nothing, without why: the actuality of being” (333). In other words, the durchbruch retains the existential demand of existing an-archically, without principles. The breakthrough can also be understood, then, as the resistance mounted by the existent in trying to sustain this engagement with free singular existence. In perhaps some of the most significant passages concerning the consequences of the durchbruch, Schürmann describes this other relation to existence as the one that makes possible such things as freedom or happiness. Only in this free singular engagement with existence is the existent precariously described as free or happy. It is not to say that this renewed relation to existence guarantees these aims, but it is understood as the condition of possibility for them. The existent cannot be considered to be free or happy as long as freedom and happiness are always already tied down to a particular principle or formulation. As Schürmann correctly mentions, “We will not know freedom producing itself—likewise the actuality of being—unless by always “piercing through” (334). If the existent cannot recognize this other zone of existence as a zone that is not ordered by any principle, which also actively solicits all attempts at subsuming existence under hegemonic fantasms, then the durchbruch cannot be thought.

In concluding his remarks on Eckhart in Broken Hegemonies, Schürmann summarizes the importance of Eckhart’s thought in the following sentence: “What one must learn from Eckhart in this bold gesture: Unfathomable, indeterminate being is singularized—but yet is not determined—in non-attachment” (337). Throughout our interpretive work on Schürmann’s work in this present essay, we have shown the centrality of detachment as a kind of ‘fundamental concept’ for Schürmann’s project insofar as he recognizes its importance in singularization to come. The singularization to come of the existent appears as a ‘denied knowledge’ that Eckhart was one of the first thinkers to be able to liberate in his efforts to think the tension between existence and principle. We have continually referred to this ‘denied knowledge’ as the free and singular exposure to existence. This knowledge reveals itself not as a principle, but as the refusal of all principles. As Schürmann writes, “To think the origin we must therefore pay the price by renouncing our attachment to assets deduced from the species, from the nameable, from properties, from entitatives” (338). Here, Schürmann introduces us to an illustration of the refusal to pay the price of hegemonic fantasms. The options are laid out clearly: either one pays the price of hegemonic fantasms and understand being as simple, which means to lose any possibility of thinking the singular, or one pays the price of thinking the origin, which means to renounce our attachments and expose ourselves to this experience of abandonment and destitution. To bid on the second option means to engage in a thought of existence in which the existent no longer searches for the principle or proper abode of existence. Instead, the existent’s relation to existence “liberates the non-factual knowledge that the trait of mortality always draws us toward our singularization to come. It frees the ultimates that make the final instance not simple” (338). Thus, the existent exposes itself to the free, singular, non-simple existence.

Schürmann, Reader of Heidegger: Singularization To Come

At the beginning of his monograph on Heidegger’s philosophical thought, Heidegger On Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy (1987), Schürmann introduces the work with an epigraph taken from one of Eckhart’s writings: “Hoc enim proprie vivit quod est sine principio (only that which is without a principle properly lives)” (v). The use of the Eckhartian epigraph can be read as suggesting an intimate connection between Wandering Joy and the present book. While the study on Heidegger seems to be a completely different effort than Wandering Joy, the Eckhartian insight still remains clearly in sight, namely, the possibility of an existential durchbruch that emerges in the tension between existence and principle. In fact, Schürmann introduces a reading of Heidegger in Heidegger On Being and Acting that is primarily focused with understanding the genealogy and necrology of epochal constellations and Heidegger’s contribution to thinking after the exhaustion of all principles. While Schürmann’s Heidegger On Being and Acting constitutes a rigorous and intricate work focusing on Heidegger’s entire œuvre, we cannot help but selectively engage, given the scope of the present essay, with some of the conclusions Schürmann offers at the end of his study.

The opening sentence of his concluding remarks states, “The argument I have tried to develop may be comprehended by the distinction between rule and principle” (282). What is at stake is identifying the consequences of the genealogical and necrological movement of epochal principles in Heidegger’s work. In the series of reflections Schürmann offers as concluding remarks, the one that interests us the most is his description of the fourth consequence for the direction of life. Schürmann describes this fourth consequence by using the Greek phrase ‘poein kata phusin’, or action following presencing. Poein kata phusin, then, refers to the fact that the only orientation that action can receive derives from the presencing of being. This perspective is particularly significant because it prefaces Schürmann’s explicit description of his notion of an-archy. He writes, “Since an ordering principle initiates and commands, since it is the archē of an epoch, such acting preparatory to a post-modern economy would be literally an-archic” (289). Thus, in deconstructing references to epochal principles, Schürmann claims that a practical consequence for life of the withering away of principles is that action no longer follows any principle.

Schürmann follows this same question, that is, Heidegger’s contribution to thought in the twilight epoch of all principles, in the closing section of his discussion of Heidegger in Broken Hegemonies. Specifically, we identify Schürmann’s reengagement with this question at the opening question of the last section on Heidegger, titled “The singularization to come.” Schürmann describes the stakes in the form of a question: “What breaks hegemonies and places us under the legislation of diremption?” (609). In response to this question, Schürmann offers a simple response that proceeds from his reading of Heidegger: hegemonies are fractured due to singularity. Singularity remains the one thing that hegemony cannot adequately master or subsume entirely. In describing what he terms the legislative-transgressive moment, Schürmann repeats several of his conclusions at the end of Heidegger on Being and Acting. However, most significantly for our interests, Schürmann writes the following, “The lesson to be drawn from this legislative excess [of the philosopher] is that there is a violence of self-assertion that is impossible to unlearn and another violence that, in its convulsions, the West perhaps already has been in the process of unlearning for more than a century” (611). Schürmann’s insight is that the singularization to come, as that which emerges in the double movement of natality and mortality, is precisely that which philosophy, under normative representations, has been actively forgetting and unthinking. Therefore, something other than philosophical speculation must be mobilized in order to approximate the core of the legislative-transgressive moment.

Thinking through the legislative-transgressive moment, Schürmann decides to elaborate on the transgressive, which is what philosophy has tended to efface in the name of the legislative. In describing the transgressive moment, Schürmann writes, “In every normative positing, the possible singularization at the heart of an actuality legislating phenomenal economy exercises a transgressive withdrawal” (614). The philosophical attempt to efface the transgressive moment is futile insofar as it remains inscribed within the possibility of the singularization to come, which appears as a withdrawal from the normative or legislative positing. The singular existent exposes an entirely different relation to existence in positing itself outside of all reference to normative or legislative positings. Schürmann acknowledges this movement of the singular existent by describing it as a withdrawal that “is most decisive for the understanding of being” (618). The singular existent comes in a process of, in Schürmann’s terms, forming constellations or phenomenalizing themselves by entering into an economy. But the singular existent remains, perhaps, most in its singularity in the possibility of its withdrawal from these positings. The withdrawal of the singular existent should not be understood as a failure of theoretico-speculative knowledge, but as that which “ruins {abîme} meaning, but it is a mise en abîme at the point of emergence, thus already emergent” (619). The possibility of withdrawal is what maintains the to come of the singularization in tension. The future of the singular existent is based on the possibility of withdrawal and a refusal of all ordering principles. The withdrawal or refusal is not done in the name of something. Rather, these movements occur on the basis of existence itself as that which singularizes itself.

Schürmann and Infrapolitics: Furthering the Thought of Free Singular Existence

While both Wandering Joy and Heidegger On Being and Acting constitute important glimpses into Schürmann’s general thought, it is no doubt in Broken Hegemonies that we see Schürmann’s insights come to maturity in his singular philosophical voice. We have followed Schürmann’s readings of Eckhart and Heidegger and have demonstrated the manner in which he uses the notion of detachment and singularization to come. These two strategies can be seen as the crucial developments of Schürmann’s project in addressing the tension between existence and principle. Whether Schürmann was dealing with Eckhart or Heidegger, we identified the tension between existence and principle as the central point of these interventions. In Broken Hegemonies, Schürmann describes what forms the central knot of his investigations—the double bind constituted by the antagonistic movements of natality and mortality. Schürmann indicates the defining characteristic of each pole of the double bind as follows: “The first, the archic trait, prompts us toward new commencements and sovereign commandments. It makes us magnify norms and principles. The second always wrests us from the world of such archic referents. It is the singularizing, dispersing, desolating, evicting, dephenomenalizing, exclusory trait” (624). The tension between the archic movement and its unworking creates, according to Schürmann, an originary movement that is non-binary. It is not a matter of denying one in favor of the other, but of following the way in which both remain in strife with each other. Schürmann describes this dual attunement as following three movements: the possibility of the future, the presence of anarchy, and, finally, the persistence of the double bind. In developing this kind of dual attunement to the double bind, we are no longer searching for the justificatory what or why to our existence, but a how. In this perhaps crude formulation, the important thing to underscore is that the singularization to come as an engagement with existence must (and already does) take precedence over all principial-normative speculation.

While certainly recognizing Schürmann’s project as introducing a particular attempt to think free singular existence, we also understand that this is by no means the only one. Rather, we can identify several thinkers, especially those who, like Schürmann, are following Heidegger’s works[4]. Among many attempts to think through the Heideggerian legacy and, especially, free singular existence, we can identify infrapolitics as sharing this same horizon. While there is no concept of ‘infrapolitics’ already at hand, the present essay is an attempt to solicit the reflexive process that is perhaps characteristic of infrapolitical thinking.[5] Infrapolitics resembles Schürmann’s project in two main facets. The first facet is that both projects predominantly share a Heideggerian legacy in which one of the aims is to think through the possible political contributions in Heidegger’s thought. However, and this is decisive, infrapolitics cannot be understood as simply another kind of political philosophy. Rather, infrapolitics constitutes political thinking insofar as it attempts to think free singular existence as not simply a speculative task but in an attempt to think, as Alberto Moreiras has described, “an other dimension of existence [una dimensión otra de la existencia]” (206). Or, alternatively, “infrapolitics, in its reflexive condition, is an exercise in savage moralism [moralismo salvaje], anti-political and anti-ethical, because it desires exile in regards to the subjective prison that constitutes the ethico-political relation ideologically imposed upon us as a consequence of metaphysical humanism” (208).[6] In other words, both Schürmann’s project and infrapolitics are concerned with thinking existence in this infra or sub register that attends to an existence that is not already overdetermined and exhausted by politics and/or ethics.[7]

Additionally, the infrapolitical thought of savage moralism shares the same unprincipled thinking as Schürmann’s attempt to think an-archically. Infrapolitics, in performing a step-back from the predominant understanding of the ethico-political relation, as can be understood through particularized discussions of ethics and political philosophy, “is an-archic, because it does not submit to any principle” (208).[8] In other words, Schürmann’s project and infrapolitics share the same aim of thinking existence as understood without reference to principles or ‘why’. The immediate consequence of thinking existence in this manner is that the imposition of a principle or hegemonic fantasm is complicated. These impositions are no longer taken for granted and naturalized, but are deconstructed in their attempt to assign normative rules in either ethics or politics. The free singular existence thematized by infrapolitics is guided by the same exigency that can be identified in Schürmann’s description of imperative thought. Free singular existence is, thus, free in the precise manner that its decision is not already prescribed by principles, and singular insofar as it involves the decision of the singular existent.

Another relevant manner of putting Schürmann’s project and infrapolitics in direct conversation occurs in his description of peregrinal ontology. In describing this notion, Schürmann writes, “Identity is intermittent, a process, anonymous—peregrine identity. Intermittence (momentary detachment), process (birth and breakthrough), and anonymity (Godhead beyond god)” (203). In this passage, we see that Schürmann is clearly not looking to solicit the so-called ontology of Being by appealing to the ontology of Becoming, which, in all reality, is no better. In fact, Schürmann could not appeal to this kind of facile solution given his close reading of Eckhart and Heidegger. Rather, Schürmann offers an interruption of the structures of ontology. In thinking the interruption of ontology, Schürmann refers to the figures of intermittence, process, anonymity, and, finally, peregrination in order to stress the point that he is not offering an alternate ontology, but is indicating a deconstruction of all ontology. In reality, imperative thought can also be included in this deconstruction of ontology. Therefore, both projects share the characteristic of not offering an alternative ontology, ethics or politics, but a soliciting of all of these structures by attending to what subtends them all—existence.

In deconstructing these pillars of philosophical thought, infrapolitics can be understood, as Moreiras has pointed out, as “deconstruction in politics, or [. . .] the deconstruction of politics or politics in deconstruction” (201), but also as the deconstruction of ontological thought insofar as it attempts to think existence in rigid and a priori categories. In reference to peregrinal ontology, we see that the thought of existence no longer depends on finding the stable identity that will allow us to fill in the traits of objects, but we are now exposed to a post-ontological existential thought that understands existence as that which must let be in order to trace its properties. Expropriation, withdrawal, retreat, and so on, are no longer merely negative traits that taint the positive traits of ontological thought. Rather, they now form an important constellation that allow for this other, infrapolitical thought. As a manner of questioning these long standing traditions of philosophical inquiry, infrapolitics presents itself as an ‘other thinking’ that exposes the limitations of these specialized discourses to their condition of possibility—free singular existence.

In infrapolitical reflection, we no longer think existence by referring to an ordering principle, but think of it in its singular and concrete instantiation, which is never given a priori. In going through existence, the free singular existent wanders a path that opens up as the ‘site’ of possibility of existence. The path lacks any legislative normativity. Rather, it exposes itself in all of its contingency and precariousness. Like the event [Ereignis], existence occurs as the consistent, but never guaranteed, flow of manifestation. In following the expressions of manifestation, the free singular existent follows without program and without model. In this lack of foundation, the free singular existent approximates being in its core—the improper origin. One of the most significant ties between Schürmann’s project and infrapolitics can be understood as the deconstruction of factical life, especially the manner in which it has been described by ontology, ethics or politics. In this deconstructive moment, existence appears forcefully as the durchbruch that reveals another possibility of thought as well as existential praxis.


01. For references to posthegemony, especially in the specific sense it is being used in this essay, see, for example, Jon Beasley-Murray (2010), Alberto Moreiras (2013 and 2016).

02. I owe this point to reading Walter Brogan’s article “The Community of Those Who Are Going to Die,” as well as discussions with Alberto Moreiras.

03. See, for example, Martin Heidegger’s The Essence of Truth, where the majority of this 1931-32 seminar deals with making explicit the relationship between freedom and Being. Also, we should mention Jean-Luc Nancy’s continuation of this intuition in The Experience of Freedom.

04. A few thinkers that come to mind are Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Roberto Esposito, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Louis Althusser, and so on. Of course, this list is not exhaustive (yet it does not presume to be so), but it offers a certain orientation of thinkers whose work is influential or are important critical interlocutors for infrapolitical reflection.

05. The quasi-conceptuality of ‘infrapolitics’ is perhaps most clearly articulated in Alberto Moreiras’ Marranismo e inscripción where, in an interview format, he writes the following: “I just referred to it [infrapolitics] as an instance of quasi-conceptual resistance to all apparatuses of ideological capture, which refers to an unregulated practical-speculative third space, that is, outside of all rule and regulation. It is not the case that it is impossible to think it [infrapolitics], rather (I think it is the easiest thing to think about, that which is closest to all of us, but someone said that the narrowest abyss is also, for that reason, the most difficult), but it would be contradictory to attempt to give it [infrapolitics] a theoretical formulation or a definition… I suppose that what matters, then, is not securing a stable definition, but, rather, to invoke a reflexive process that allows one to free one’s ear, or one’s eye, or one’s touch, that gives place, or that permits one to conceive of an alternative site of thought.” [“Acabo de referirme a ello como instancia cuasiconceptual resistente a todo aparato ideológico de capture, que remite a un tercer espacio práctico-especulativo desregulado, es decir, fuera de regla y de regulación. No es que sea imposible pensarlo, por lo pronto (yo creo que es lo más fácil de pensar, lo que está más cerca de todos nosotros, pero alguien decía que el abismo más estrecho es por lo mismo también el más difícil), pero sí resulta contradictorio tratar de darle una formulación teórica, o una definición… Supongo que lo que importa no es entonces asegurar una definición estable sino más bien invocar un proceso reflexivo que permita liberar el oído, o el ojo, o el tacto, que deje sitio, o que permita concebir un sitio alternativo de pensamiento”] (201).

06. The original quote in Spanish is the following: “La infrapolítica, en su condición reflexiva, es un ejercicio de moralismo salvaje, anti-político y anti-ético, porque quiere éxodo con respecto de la prisión subjetiva que constituye una relación ético-política impuesta ideológicamente sobre nosotros como consecuencia del humanismo metafísico.”

07. For a clarification of how infrapolitics sub-cedes ethics/politics, see Moreiras (2016, 209-210). In these pages, Moreiras clarifies that infrapolitics does not present itself as an alternative politics. Rather, infrapolitics suggests a hyperpoliticization [hiperpolitización] that occurs in affirming politics beyond merely the politics of the subject. In addition, Moreiras also elucidates the notion of moralismo salvaje, which does not constitute an alternate or new ethics. Rather, the notion refers to san existential praxis that is the condition of both ethics and politics.

08. The original Spanish passage is: “es an-árquico, porque no se somete a principio” (208).

Works Cited

  • Aristotle. De Anima. Newburyport: Focus Publishing Press, 2011. Print.
  • Beasley-Murray, Jon. Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010. Print.
  • Brogan, Walter. “The Community of Those Who Are Going to Die.” Heidegger and Practical Philosophy. Eds. François Raffoul and David Pettigrew. New York: State U of New York P, 2002: 237-247. Print.
  • Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: State U of New York P, 1996. Print.
  • ———————. The Essence of Truth. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Print.
  • Moreiras, Alberto. Marranismo e inscripción, o el abandono de la conciencia desdichada. Madrid: Escolar y Mayo, 2016. Print.
  • ———————. “Posthegemonía, o más allá del principio del placer.” Alter/nativas 1 (2013): 1-21. Print.
  • Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Experience of Freedom. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. Print.
  • Schürmann, Reiner. Broken Hegemonies. Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2003. Print.
  • ———————. Heidegger On Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy. Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1987. Print.
  • ———————. Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy. Great Barrington: Lindisfarne Books, 2001. Print.