The Common and the Tragic Community: A Reading of Reiner Schürmann’s Broken Hegemonies

Maddalena Cerrato
Texas A&M University

Volume 11, 2017

To think is to linger on the condition in which one is living, to linger on the site where we live. Thus, to think is a privilege of that epoch that is ours, provided that the essential fragility of the sovereign referents becomes evident to it. This assigns to philosophy, or to whatever takes its place, the task of showing the tragic condition beneath all principled constructions.

Reiner Schürmann, Broken Hegemonies

Our Vulnerable Times

Some sort of fragility seems to mark our time, that is, the time that is the topos, the site, of our existence; the time that is the site where and when the architectonics of modernity collapsed, a time that is quite ‘timeless’ since it marks more a condition than a moment, or since it is marked more as a momentum of dissolution than an epoch in history; a site that is quite borderless since it has lasted anywhere between a century and ten years. This is the time that Martin Heidegger called, along with Hölderlin, the time of need: “It is the time of the gods who have fled and of the god who is coming. It is the time of need because it stands in a double lack and a double not: in the no-longer of the gods who have fled and in the not-yet of the god who is coming” (Hölderlin 64).

Everything about our time-site appears blurry and uncertain. A number of shaky attempts to rescue it through a pretense of radical novelty were made by turning to the concept of globalization. Leaving aside any intention of discussing or assessing globalization on its epistemological merits, one can indeed say that it has been the most significant attempt to give our time’s uncertainty some framework. It is the attempt of transforming the collapse of Modernity into a new (?) last (?) grand narrative. Globalization’s constitutive spatiotemporal ambiguity, as well as its inherent unsteadiness as a principle of foundation for an edifice of positive knowledge still speaks about the crisis that Lyotard, in his The Postmodern Condition, described as modern legitimization through “the reference to a metadiscourse that explicitly appeals to some grand narrative” (xxiii). Nevertheless, behind globalization theories what stubbornly endures is the resistance against accepting the post- as defining our condition, that is to say, the “obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation” insofar as it “corresponds, most notably to the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it” (xxiv). It seems to be suggesting that the collapse of the architectonics that supported the university disciplinary edifice can become the grand narrative that promises to offer a reliable apparatus of legitimization to the university’s discourse as long as it accepts an Escherian, though cosmetic, remodeling of its structure. Anticipating what is to come in the following pages, one could say that what pushes globalization theories on today is nothing but the consoling and consolidating work of those who Reiner Schürmann calls the professional philosophers, or, rather, nothing but the impulse of natality.

For Schürmann, the fragility of our time-site is the fragility that we owe to kenosis, i.e. the emptying out of all normative representation. The fragility of our time-site is mostly the symptom that reveals the diremption of the last principle’s hegemony and the opening of the last of what Schürmann calls inter-hegemonic times; but, rather than being an ‘everyone-for-themselves’ wake-up call, such a fragility represents an opportunity and a new task for thought. Eventually, such a task is the thorough understanding of the tragic condition as the constitutive condition of existence: “I will not conceal the fact that if there is an urgent task for thinking, it is, for me, to better know the tragic condition. To learn to love it” (345). Knowing the tragic condition means recognizing the ultimate fracture beneath any epistemological or political institution of law and order. The tragic condition is the condition of human existence as it deals with the plurality of Being, since this dealing involves arranging the radical plurality of singular phenomena under common representations, and involves organizing the radical plurality of singular human beings under the law of the community. These are two sides of the same coin, namely, the institution of a principial nomic (archic) order that conceals the differing existence of the singular. In his topology of broken hegemonies, Schürmann follows the traces of the denied differend that undermines the logic of the same which governed every normative configuration. He looks to recover the violence of the singularizing undertow beneath the thetic installation of common representations that work as the ultimate phantasmic reference for the institution of a community. The tragic condition is this conflict between the thetic violence that imposes the subsumptive hegemony of the universal and the violent undertow of the singular that withdraws itself from the submission to any normative representation. This is for him the conflict between natality, or being-toward-birth, and mortality, or being-toward-death.

In what follows, I move through Schürmann’s monumental enterprise that he describes in the following terms:

The project of the present study is to grasp natality and mortality as they are joined in these fantasms; it is to rehabilitate the originary double allegiance, to lend a voice to the tragic condition silenced by the theticism of meaning, to try to comprehend the broken hegemonies. The fantasms of the common indeed are fractured upon this condition of phenomena that singularizes them as only death singularizes.


The underlying question concerns, indeed, the common, which is the matrix of any hegemonic representation, as a principle of normative organization of existence. It is a matter of understanding the common, rather than as a source of order and conciliation, as a phantasmic instance of repression and denial. For Schürmann such an understanding is key to the possibility of understanding the tragic condition as the originary condition of existence and the most urgent task for thought. And this offers the opportunity to ask whether the community, not as the topos of the consoling and consolidating sovereignty of identity and equivalence, nor as the ultimate horizon of self-assuring metaphysical closure, but, rather, as the place of the tragic condition par excellence, could be the topological time-site for infrapolitical thought to dwell.

The Common, Natality, and the Professional Philosopher

It will be useful to reflect on the persistence of the singular, the object of passion, at the heart of the common referents that enjoy the renown of the law. To reflect thus means to put into question the rallying names in which we trust as if their legislative prestige went without saying: names such as “progress,” “people,” “race,” “freedom” … By submitting ourselves—you and I—to such common representation, we become capable of understanding each other, which is, by the way, why anomy is bound to remain a dream.

The prestige of the common makes for actual knowing, and it prompts thinking.

(Broken, 343)

Common representations enjoy an unchallenged legislative prestige. We grant them normative authority over the objects of our passions, over our encounter with manifold ways of being, over our own thinking for the sake of understanding each other. Yet we can always question the phantasmic nature of common representations, that is, we can try to shake the trust we accord to the names of the common, nevertheless giving up the need to understand each other for the sake of an anomic existence that seems to be beyond anyone’s wildest dream. Understanding each other here should not be seen in terms of Idle Talk, of everyday verbal exchanges, but rather as the condition of existence as beings exposed to a plurality intended both as the plurality of others and the plurality of beings. The understanding each other that is at stake in the normative theticism of the common is the existential structure that Heidegger discusses in the first division of Time and Being dedicated to existential Analytic of Da-sein. Here it is the existential structure that supports the phenomenon of communication in an ontologically broad sense. In Time and Being, Heidegger expounds on “the communication that is grasped in principle existentially”:

Here the articulation of being-with-one-another understandingly is constituted. It brings about the “sharing” of being attuned together and of the understanding of being-with. Communication is never anything like a conveying of experiences, for example, opinions and wishes, from the inside of one subject to the inside of another. Mitda-sein is essentially already manifest in attunement-with and understanding-with. Being-with is “explicitly” shared in discourse, that is, it already is, only unshared as something not grasped and appropriated.


The common is always posited as that which commences and commands the multiplicity of being. The common is always nomothetic. The thetic and normative dimensions are inextricable. This is the violence of the institution of the law. The common legislates and reigns over the dispersion of the singular. The common is the phantasmic excess which is always governing our encounter with the singular, since such an encounter is named through ordinary language. We consign the radical experience of the singular to common representations any time we verbalize it. Discourse, as the articulation of intelligibility, is subjection of the singular object of passion to the common. Any time we use language other than deictically, we are consigning given singulars to the subsumptive power of common nouns. The singular becomes a particular instance of a universal phantasmic representation held up by a common name. In the speech that names it, the singular becomes the particular, and its originary singularity is domesticated by the signifier. In this sense, languages are the institution of phantasmic realities. Such phantasmic realities give us meaning and knowledge, make us capable of understanding each other, and, ultimately, of thinking. As Schürmann writes at the beginning of Broken Hegemonies: “Far from mastering a language, concepts live on it; they are born of words” (4). Normative theticism, that is, the institution of the common, is an originary condition of life:

It provides interlocutors with common concepts and agents with general ideas. Theticism constitutes of the natural metaphysician within us. Thus to the extent that, to live, it is necessary to speak and act, to understand and think, we will never extricate ourselves from poses and positions assumed, from theses put forth, and stops that are posited. … We will never extricate ourselves from legislative maximizings.


Legislative maximizing is unescapable because it is concerned with plurality as the condition of living. Legislative maximizing is the way in which initially and for the most part we deal with plurality, where plurality refers both to the plurality of others and the plurality of Being. Legislative maximizing has to do with the fundamental structure of understanding, that is, the existential originary condition of disclosing to plurality. In Heidegger’s words: “As disclosing, understanding always concerns the whole fundamental constitution of being-in-the-world” (135). In the Existential Analytic, Heidegger emphasizes the connection between understanding, intelligibility, and discourse in terms of hearing, or listening to. To speak and act, to understand and think are possible through the primary mode of a hearing that understands, which is the condition of openness to others not as a singular others, but as a primordial possibility of Da-sein as Mitda-sein. In such a condition of listening, one is thus listening to the law, namely, one is offering an ear to the normative theticism of the common, and what is called to be understood finds itself standing under the common, subject to the law of the common. Thus, com-prehending is revealed as an operation of legislative maximizing, of grasping together those disperse singular objects of our passion and organizing them under those “common referents that enjoy the renown of the law” (343). Not only is understanding subsuming under the common, but there is no normative theticism unless the maximizing representations, the norms for thinking, are thought as common.

To understand this primordial impulse of self-submission to common phantasmic representation, Schürmann turns to Arendt’s concept of natality. In The Human Condition, Arendt defines natality as the impulse of beginning a beginner, as the coming into the world of the principle of beginning. All three fundamental human activities (labor, work, action) are connected to the condition of natality, but action (and speech in so far as it accompanies action) are the most strictly bound to it: “the new beginning inherent in birth can make itself felt in the world only because the newcomer possesses the capacity of beginning something anew, that is, of acting” (9). In natality are found ontologically rooted “human institutions and laws and, generally, of all matters pertaining to men’s living together” (192). In this sense one can understand the impulse of natality as the impulse to begin, lead, and rule (to which the Greek verb archein refers) on the condition of human plurality, which is the condition of political life. As Arendt further clarifies in On Violence, “What makes a man a political being is his faculty of action; it enables him to get together with his peer, to act in concert, and to reach out for goals and enterprises…Philosophically speaking, to act is the human answer to the condition of natality” (82).

Thus, Schürmann refers to the impulse of natality as the foundational action that posits the common as the horizon of possibility of living in the condition of human plurality. The normative theticism that follows the impulse of natality is the institution of the arché, the principle that posits the phenomenality of phenomena, that is, what makes them conceivable as the transforming of the singular into a particular, which by definition can always be subsumed under a common universal.

Such a normative theticism is the phantasmic work accomplished by everyday language and by its predicative structure. However, it has also always been the public function, the civic duty, of the philosopher. Indeed, philosophers are called to secure the stability of the laws governing knowledge and acting: “They promote the koinon to the level of normative instance capable of consoling the soul and consolidating the city [my emphasis]” (9). Schürmann leaves no doubts about the historical continuity of such a public role of philosophy, as the professional philosopher, or the master thinker, is to be understood as “an altogether bureaucratized version of the philosopher-king”:

Whether seated in court or in his office, what is expected of a master thinker? What does he expect of himself? What he expects are directive ideas, thus a certain kind of government. One can put it this way: he occupies the position of the expert. And he posits. What? Foundations. Be he monarchic or bureaucratic, his duties have remained technical. His techné, hi “know-how,” pertains to the deep mooring of private phenomena within, and public phenomena without. The foundation he secures must guarantee certainty in knowledge and rectitude in acting, and to life both stability and meaning.


The philosopher is called to the great responsibility of securing the norms of acting as well as the possibility of knowledge. It is a matter of ensuring and strengthening “the fantasmic work of everyday language” (9) in organizing a reality made of clear referents and stable meanings, that is, a reality that has no outside. The philosopher carries out and potentiates the work of language, strengthening the subjection to the common that we have always-already brought upon ourselves.

The professional philosopher is called to impose on the multiplicity of Being the “arch-violence” that institutes the common and clears away the proper names of the singular to build a more inhabitable reality, that is, a consolidated city where the soul is adequately consoled by the secure hold on established common principles. The philosopher’s mission is to provide his own “city” a sovereign principle that is archic insofar as it commences and commands, since it is going to be the ground for all normative relations, the referent for all exercise of government, but it also has to be an-archic since to be fully sovereign, it cannot rely on any other condition. Thus, such sovereign principles cannot but be hegemonic phantasms whose very authority lies in being out of any cognitive reach, in escaping any comprehension. These are what Schürmann calls the ultimates, the analytic of which is Broken Hegemonies’ primary task.

In order to constitute the phenomenality of phenomena, in order to universalize them, a representational order must organize itself around a principle, a fantasmic referent measuring all representations. A hegemonic fantasm so conceived not only directs us to refer everything to it, but has, furthermore, an endless supply of significations, that is to say, normative measures. It is the position to which all practical and cognitive laws relate, in the final instance, all acts and all phenomena.


A twofold order of spectrality marks reality. Reality, meaning the phenomenality of phenomena, is the representational order of things based on a hegemonic principle that is always a phantasm to the extent that it is posited out of our cognitive reach, detached from experience, and maximized to become an all-encompassing referent for the subsumption of any phenomenon. On the other hand, reality is also fatally haunted by the specter of the singularization to come, which is the “undertow that undermines every hegemonic fantasm” (25). Beneath the sovereignty of the ultimates, though, the singular objects of passion persist. Any deictic use of language betrays the haunting presence of the singular that withdraws itself from the grip of the common referents threatening their hegemony. If, indeed, the professional philosopher is called to promote the normative position of the common, to maximize the phantasmic consoling and consolidating always already at work in language, it is because such a work is also always already threatened by the negative experience of the nameless, which is ultimately the experience of mortality. In this sense, the tasks of the professional philosopher can be understood as the institution of a normative order as well as the denial of the twofold order of spectrality that marks it. “Tragic denial is necessary for the univocal law to be born” (27). A tragic constitutive condition threatens the confidence of the soul and the stability of the city, thus, the need to “promote the koinon to the level of normative instance capable of consoling the soul and consolidating the city” (9), which is also the need to deny the persistence of the singular objects of passion and to repress “the deictic function of everyday life” (44).

Mortality, the Tragic Condition, and Inter-Hegemonic Times

The tragic constitutive condition threatening the confidence of the soul and the stability of the city is the originary conflict of the irreducible traits of existence that Schürmann – borrowing Hannah Arendt’s terms (which, indeed, aim to “correct” the Heideggerian being-toward-death)– calls “natality” and “mortality”:

The first, the archic traits, prompts us toward new commencements and sovereign commandments. It makes us magnify norms and principles. The second always wrest us from the world of such archic referents. It is the singularizing, dispersing, desolating, evicting, dephenomenalizing, exclusory trait. The two do not pair off. One does not oppose the other as a determinate negation. They are originary, yet not binary, traits. They do not split a genus in half.


Mortality, the Heideggerian being-toward-death, always already undermines natality and the order built under such an impulse to posit subsumptive phantasms. Death reveals the limit to the sovereignty of common referents to the extent that it reveals singularity. In this sense, Schürmann refers to mortality as the strategy of withdrawal from any constituted world of norms and phenomena, i.e. of withdrawal from the common. Mortality is at work as what escapes knowledge and language, and undercuts the normative order of reality: it is the deictic singular that can never be consigned to a normative principle. Death is the original experience of singularity that cannot be said in the sense of being appropriated or exhausted through words, and yet it reveals itself into language through the appellative and performative character of speaking.

Being born means entering into a world of common names, or into a constituted phenomenality, thus it also means always-already submitting oneself to the sovereignty of common representation. Yet birth also implies consigning ourselves to the proper name, which is the only one still attached to us in our death. Even words are subjected to original disparity that binds us. While accomplishing their metaphysical work of transforming singulars into particular instances of the common, words still deictically let emerge the singularizing force of death: “Yet the undertow also points to singulars and singularizes us (if words always have this ostensive, monstrative bearing, if they signify not only a universal but still signify to me what to do or whom to be, then metaphysics never constituted a closed system)” (347). The voice that calls one’s own name and the deictic gesture that points out the singular is what reveals the tragic human condition. It is the originary co-belonging of natality and mortality that relinquishes its phantasmic status to normative instances, while making death grievable. Such a co-belonging is neither a symmetry nor an opposition, rather the inexhaustible and irreconcilable conflict between the universalizing impulse and the singularizing withdrawal. This is the condition of originary breakage between the violent singularization of the differend that undermines the law and the subsumptive normativity of the common – which is not less violent – that institutes it. The recognition of singularity and its denial uncovers the constitutive normative-transgressive double bind that shatters thought itself, which is the original legislative-transgressive fracture that always-already traverses every hegemonic regime.

Those hegemonic regimes of the ultimate referents that the professional philosopher institutes, doing so in order to consolidate the normative order of the city against transgressive threats and to console the souls of the mortals with common sovereign signifiers that organize thinking and knowledge, are built on the negation of the impulse toward difference that still remains embedded within it. Ultimately, the repudiation of the singular and the denial of tragic conflict, that is, the denial of the constitutive tragic double bind that marks human existence, tears apart the very same philosophical founding principles. If the grounding principles owe their sovereignty to this tragic denial, they also owe to it their fragility. The tragic condition silenced by maximizing theticism is what breaks the hegemony of ultimate principles from within. Natality and mortality are joined in the phantasms of the common that a certain philosophical discourse institutes, while another discourse destitutes it, pushing it to its extreme limits and revealing the double bind beneath it. When such a destitution occurs it inaugurates one of those inter-hegemonic times that Arendt called—Schürmann says in the introduction to a collection of essays in her honor—the “‘rare moments of freedom’ in history, the moments of interregnum when one order of rules is about to vanish and a new one has not yet entirely come into place. Such intermittent times of deep breathing are literally times of anarchy, of absence of governance” (The Public Realm, 4).

Inter-hegemonic times offer the best opportunity to gain access to the tragic co-pertinence of institutive and ‘dissoluting’ violence. Such access is gained through the recognition of a tragic denial of the singular as that which enables dismissing conflict and granting the universal institution of the law. What is at stake for Schürmann in these rare moments is not the excitement of liberation from the grip of the old normative regime, nor the opportunity for the institution of a new order. What is at stake is nothing other than the experience of singularity as such, and of its denial:

At such moments, when a referential system is in that way struck moribund, the people live as holding their breath. “Say ground,” and the anguish will be dispelled. During inter-hegemonic times, one gains a clear knowledge that the function of the regime of a uniformly subsumptive fantasm is to repress. It is a knowledge about death, which can no more rise to the level of speech than “there, that mountain.” This knowledge has to do with an undertow that destabilizes every law, traversing the law as its counter-law. The integrating violence of fantasms is conquered by the dissoluting violence of the singular. We know – and this knowledge is more accessible at times of historical rupture than it is under hegemonies. The content of a tragic knowledge of the differend is the legislative-transgressive fracture.


Recovering the traces of this denial within the hegemonic phantasms, while not declaring thetic universality to be null and void, this is the task that Schürmann sets for himself. It is not a matter of curing ourselves of the theticism of the common, but rather of breaking the hegemony of each phantasm by setting free the denied singular that remains beneath the law and showing the way in which it is, actually, “the tragic that legislates”. This is what in inter-hegemonic times—which are, by definition, fragile times—assigns to philosophy a task other than that of consoling the soul and consolidating the city: “This assigns to philosophy, or to whatever takes its place, the task of showing the tragic condition beneath all principled constructions” (3), which involves showing the common to be the topos of such a tragic condition.

The Community of Mortals as the Topos of the Tragic Condition

The community is the ultimate expression of the logic of natality, as “the strategy that leads to posit the common” (346). The normative theticism of the common presides at the institution of the community. The community is always-already the community of the law, and the law is always-already the law of the common. The law is always the common; by its mere positing it postulates the need of the community as a condition of existence. The law exacts the common existence of a plurality of human beings and produces performatively. Using the words of Roberto Esposito: “what “puts us in common”? We don’t have to imagine anything outside the community itself, as if community exists before law, or law precedes community. Community is one with law in the sense that common law prescribes nothing else but the exigency of community itself” (14). The law not only produces the community performatively, it also produces it as what is meant to appear as the condition of our own existence. In this sense, the twofold duty of the professional philosopher to console the soul and to consolidate the city can be understood as the duty of the community. What is at stake in the community is a need for assurance-security-safety where the soul and the city tend to coincide. The philosophical institution of the ultimates, as foundations for an understanding of being through a logic of subsumption without remainder, is ultimately brought to bear on the hegemonic illusion of the community.

However, to the extent that humans are mortals the last instance of the community is always “the community of mortals.” This oxymoronic expression reminds us that the radical singularization of mortality, that is, the transgressive strategy of the singulars’ withdrawal as the “mother of all contingency,” is also constitutive of it. Mortals are the ultimate expression of the disparate singulars that can never be subsumed to a phantasm. The community exists in the name of a regime of truth that results from a normative theticism that is always phantasmic. The community itself is the phantasm. Underneath its reassuring appearance, the community –any human community – is torn apart by an originary conflict. This is the conflict between the intuitional normative violence of the law and the dissolving transgressive violence of the singular. This is the conflict between the institution of the common, that is, the normative instance that organizes the community and governs its members’ conduct, and the singularizing force of the dispersive given that resists the normative bond. While the law imposes itself through the hegemonic subsumption of singularity into the representation of a more docile particular, the singular fights to withdraw from the power of the norm, to escape the capture of the common, and maintain its structural ineffability. In this sense, the community is the topos of the tragic, the site par excellence of the tragic condition and its denial.

The inherently tragic constitution of the community, as community of mortals, seems to be mirrored by the inner fissure that tore apart the modern hegemonic phantasm of self-consciousness: the double bind constituted by the dualism autonomy/heteronomy. The analysis of the modern hegemonic phantasm of self-consciousness occupies the second volume of Schürmann’s Broken Hegemonies. Here, Schürmann reads Martin Luther as the one who best pointed toward consciousness as the ordering principle of the reality inhabited by the moderns.

Luther translates into an ontological reference what his contemporary, Copernicus (probably unknown to Luther), established as an astronomic certitude: the regularity in which we trust will in no case be that which we observe, but always and only that which we construe. Luther radicalizes the “Copernican” revolution by seeking the standard for all truth no longer in an ordinary order of essences, but in an originary act of consciousness. This act will be constitutive without, however, being spontaneous, and it will be nomothetic without being autonomous.


The phantasm of the consciousness that is born with Luther “will be fully instituted only with Kant” (355). Thus, Schürmann retraces the way the two strategies of being, i.e. natality and mortality, are conjugated in the modern reference reading Luther with Kant. He maps out the inner cleavage that fractures the modern referent from its very birth, understanding how both worked in the same split site of thought. The tragic double bind that lacerates the phantasm of self-consciousness is that of autonomy and heteronomy, or spontaneity and receptivity, which is the fracture of self-consciousness between the ego and the self.

In the interior of the common arena delimited by the disposition of modernity, the key factors are completely different for Luther than for Kant. For example, crucial for all that can happen in the new locus is the opposition between autonomy and heteronomy; these terms are switched from Luther to Kant. […] Thus, heteronomy, the origin of salvation in Luther, becomes the root of all evil in Kant; inversely, autonomy, the tendency which is radically evil in Luther, in Kant turns into the supreme good of the person. This chiasm changes everything in the site of hegemonic self-consciousness, but it causes neither the site nor the disposition to change. Hence, “Kant with Luther.”


Therefore, in order to think through the hegemony of self-consciousness and its destitution, Schürmann analyzes the chiasmic relation of the ways in which Luther and Kant have worked through the opposition between autonomy and heteronomy that shaped and fractured the territory of the Subject’s sovereignty and its disciplinary “architectonic.” This is the shift from Luther’s heteronomous apperception that found the new hegemony of the consciousness in the “I obey,” to the Kantian synthetic unity of apperception in which subjective autonomy and its practical and intellectual emancipatory potential reside in the indeterminate self-presence of the “I think.” Schürmann points out that this shift does not alter the topology of the sovereign subject’s realm, which is ultimately split for the irreducibility of the ego and the self. Showing how in Luther the hegemony of consciousness is posited by the act of obedience as an act that interiorizes the heteronomy of the law, Schürmann sheds light on the tragic break that shatters the Kantian transcendental subject that tries to judge the singular. This is the tragic wound of passivity that affects the legislative consciousness as the norming norm that pretends to govern all phenomena and to possess the world, namely death.

In Kant’s third Critique, the self-claiming autonomous subject turns to submitting or subjugating his judgment to the community heteronomy in order not to abdicate his normative theticism in the face of the singular. The sovereignty of spontaneous consciousness needs to give up subsumptive pretensions and abdicate in the face of the being-given of the singular. In the paradoxical structure of the reflective judgments, the modern hegemonic phantasm of self-consciousness is left with no common representations, in search of some analogy with another singular, hoping not to institute any law, rather to institute some exemplarity. Namely, it encounters its tragic condition.

What remains to feign no longer is the simple bind, to deny no longer that there has been denial by affirming life as if death were not, but to bear in mind the undertow of mortality in the thetic impulse even of natality. Tragic knowledge consists in this. […]

Suffering, once rehabilitated to its rank equal to that of making and doing, opens up the transcendental differend. It offers nothing to console, nor to consolidate.


I would say that it is, indeed, not an accident that in this context the sore tension between heteronomy and autonomy of the modern phantasm becomes intertwined with the tragic condition of the community. Finding itself in check, spontaneous self-consciousness opts for submitting itself spontaneously to the common, in form of the hypothetical, subjective, exemplary principle of the common sense shared by all members of the judging community.

Ultimately, in Schürmann’s perspective both modern self-consciousness (meaning the subject) and the community are primarily expressions of natality or of the normative theticism that posits the hegemonic phantasm and denies the tragic condition. The modern subject and the modern subjective form of the community, namely ‘the People’, are the last figure of that theticism whose topology Schürmann describes, and of which Heideggerian thought represents the final diremption: “Whether it designates the individual or the people, the ego raises its own identity to the level of an idol, postulating it as an ultimate condition for the sake of consoling and consolidating itself” (540). This phantasmic figure, like any of the others, is the illusion produced by the logic of the same: “In a sense, for two and a half thousand years we have lived but a single fantasmic hegemony: the one that has forced all phenomena into the isomorphic.” (540). The hegemonic phantasm is the referent posited as the common, that remains the same and institutes a process of equalization among beings. It is always the principle of a general equivalence. It is the norm that institutes the isomorphic, namely the normal. The common is always already both nomothetic and “isomorph-izing.” It organizes the manifoldness of being in a calculative relation which is at once always a process of normalization that violently conceals the transgressive withdrawal of the singular.

Schürmann reads Heidegger’s thought of the Ereignis as the diremption of the modern hegemonic phantasm. In the thought of the event as the strife between appropriation and expropriation, Heidegger denounces the fractured sovereignty of consciousness, the illusion of the logic of the same, and the denial of the tragic condition. This way the modern self-consciousness does not go through a destitution in favor of a new hegemony, but a diremption that opens toward the possibility of post-hegemonic, anarchic, and ‘anti-thetic’ thinking of the singularization to come. And this means more than the opening of a window looking out onto a certain hegemonic order as “susceptible of being challenged by counter-hegemonic practices that attempt to disarticulate it in order to install another form of hegemony” (Mouffe, n.p.). Indeed, it also means more than an opening allowing the recognition of every order as contingent and exposed to counterhegemonic insurgency forces. Challenging the obliteration of the singular is thus the condition of liberation from the utterly normative representation of the human condition, which at once supports and requires the institution of the common and the emancipation of democratic politics from the rule of calculative thinking and the principle of general equivalence. Ultimately, what we see emerging is the chance to unveil the phantasmic nature of the principles that guide processes of historical political subjectivation and the mechanisms of hegemonic identification that allow the construction of communitarian narratives. It is the recognition of the singularizing undertow beneath the installation of common representations that works as the ultimate phantasmal reference for the institution of the community.

I would say, thus, that the merit of reading “Schürmann with Heidegger” with respect to the disruption of the subject’s sovereignty and of his disciplinary “architectonic” as diremption of the archic-anarchic hegemonies in thought, has to do neither with the overcoming of the tragic condition nor of phantasms tout court, but rather with a new understanding of the task and of the site for thought. Following Schürmann’s shift from the Heideggerian history of Being to the topology of broken hegemony, what is at stake, more than a new epoch of thinking, is a new place for thought. Would this be the tragic community? The community as the site of the tragic condition, rather than of the self-assurance of normative theticism? Schürmann is very clear on this point: we cannot extricate ourselves from the common, but what we can do is understand that the common does not exhaust the potential either of acting or of thinking. The normative theticism of the common presides at the institution of the community. The community is the site of the tragic condition because the principle of the common, as the matrix of any hegemonic principle, is always already a phantasm unable to exhaust in its ethical political narrative the possibilities of human existence. Rather than questioning the common in order to inquire into the constitution of political community as the most authentic human condition, the focus should be on the common as a non-exhaustive dimension of existential being-in-the-world; that is, the focus should be on the tragic differend that undermines any communitarian closure. As such, philosophy should free itself from the grip of normative theticism, from the mastery of the impulse of natality, and shift its task toward the community moving away from consoling and consolidating, from positing and denying, to letting the tragic condition be, in order to think through it. Ultimately, this is the shift from ontotheological to infrapolitical thought.

Diremption requires a new discipline in thought, not only to comply with norms, but also not to betray the deictic phenomena in their places of manifestation. We have yet to learn how to live in worlds where this singularizing undertow would no longer be denied. Phenomena are betrayed as they are subsumed under one among them that gets saved and cultivated excessively. And we save phenomena (diasôzein ta phainomena) by letting them manifest themselves, by allowing diremption of theses that console the soul and consolidate the city, by letting diremption legislate.

(Broken Hegemonies, 348)

Works Cited

  • Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1958. Print.
  • ———. On Violence. Orlando: Harvest/HBJ, 1970. Print.
  • Heidegger, Martin. Time and Being. Albany: State U of New York P, 1996. Print.
  • ———. “Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry”. Elucidation of Hölderlin’s Poetry. Amherst: Humanity Books, 2000. Print.
  • Mouffe, Chantal. “Democratic Politics and Conflict: An Agonistic Approach” Politica Comun. (9) (2016).—democratic-politics-and-conflict-an-agonistic-approach?rgn=main;view=fulltext (accessed 6/13/2017).
  • Schürmann, Reiner. The Public Realm. Albany: State U of New York P, 1989. Print.
  • ———. Broken Hegemonies. Trans. Reginald Lilly. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003. Print.