Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 391–406

Weak subjectivity, trans-subjectivity and the power of event


    • Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Faculty of ArtsCharles University

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-010-9150-9

Cite this article as:
Kouba, P. Cont Philos Rev (2010) 43: 391. doi:10.1007/s11007-010-9150-9


This article begins with Gedankenexperiment proposed in The Adventure of Difference by Gianni Vattimo: Following his suggestion to read Heidegger’s fundamental ontology in terms of Nietzsche’s TheBirth of the Tragedy, we attempt to reinterpret the distinction of the authentic and inauthentic existence in the light of the difference between the Dionysian and Apollonian element, which brings us also to a new view on the existential finitude, individuality and co-existence with others. In the background of these existential features we discover the notion of event that breaks the ecstatic unity of temporality and marks the hermeneutical continuity of existence by the radical discontinuity. The image of existence exposed to the power of event is further elaborated with the help of Henri Maldiney who has introduced into the frame of the fundamental ontology the concepts of trans-possibility and trans-passibility that express the existential openness to the event. Such a reformulation of the fundamental ontology, however, brings us into the sphere of heteronomous thought that, instead of preserving its essential autonomy, unity and integrity, becomes other in its relation to the otherness that is encountered in the event.


Weak subjectivityPost-existential analysisEventTrans-possibilityTrans-subjectivity

1 A philosophical experiment

In one of the essays collected in The Adventure of Difference, Gianni Vattimo invites us to an interesting Gedankenexperiment. This experiment consists in the attempt to conceive Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and the notion of subjectivity that is inherent to it in terms borrowed from Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy.1 Even though such an attempt obviously goes against the common understanding of Being and Time and even against Heidegger’s own self-understanding in the given period, Vattimo wonders whether we can find at least two Nietzschean motifs in the structures of fundamental ontology: the first one consists in the character of the Dionysian ecstasy that combines joy with suffering, and the other one, closely linked to the first one, remains in “the ungrounding of the principium individuationis, taken equally to mean the ungrounding of the subject.”2 Both motifs are to be related to the structure of the authentic existence and through it—for the authentic existence is in Being and Time ontologically more primordial than the inauthentic existence—to the ontological structure of being-there (das Dasein) as such. What Vattimo proposes is apparently no interpretation, but rather an essential re-interpretation of the fundamental ontology which stands or falls with the affirmation that “the transcendence of Dasein’s Being is distinctive in that it implies the possibility and the necessity of the most radical individuation.”3 Since the movement of transcendence is most fully realized by the authentic existence, whereas the inauthentic existence falls behind it, the authentic existence is characterized by achieving the most radical individuation, while the inauthentic existence loses itself in various forms of self-alienation and self-forgetting. Yet, the philosophical experiment outlined in The Adventure of Difference brings us to the opposite view: Instead of consisting in the individuation of being-there, the authentic existence viewed in the light of the Dionysian element exposes being-there to the radical disintegration of its individuality.

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned Gedankenexperiment is only roughly sketched in The Adventure of Difference and most of its consequences remain hidden from our sight. Let us therefore take this experiment as a challenge and let us try to discover what remains implicitly present in the logic of this philosophical enterprise.

We can assume that by interpreting Heidegger through Nietzsche we will reach the area of a weak ontology, or, as Vattimo puts it, of “an ontology organized in ‘weak’ categories.”4 Contrary to the traditional philosophical thought which, due to its predilection for unity, sameness and autonomy, appears as ‘violent’ thought, weak ontology is opened for difference that not only cannot be subsumed under any unity, but even disintegrates every unity and sameness including the unity of individual existence. Thinking difference in its pure state, weak ontology goes so far that it accepts the disintegration of individual existence. According to Vattimo, pure difference can only be thought if we accept the disintegration of the existing subject that experiences difference.5 In order to experience difference as difference, the existing subject must be deprived of its unity and autonomy. Only when unity and autonomy of thought are replaced by multiplicity and heteronomy, one can talk about the ‘weak’ or ‘weakened’ subject in the sense of weak ontology.6 In this ontology, the subject loses its solid ontological ground not only because its existence is essentially eccentric, but also because it is fundamentally devoid of presence in which it could find itself. The way the weak subject experiences difference is specific in that difference emerges here “as the denial and de-stitution of presence,” or at least “as an ‘ungrounding’ of any claim of presence to definitiveness.”7 Considering that difference shows itself in the moment of ungrounding, that it emerges in the absence of presence, it is necessary to reconsider the basic features of subjectivity that is exposed to ungrounding and to the absence of presence when experiencing a difference. Provided we can talk about weak subjectivity in case of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, we must review the basic existential features of being-there, in the first place. Among those ontological features that determine the existence of being-there we shall now focus on its finitude, its relation to itself and its relation to others.

2 Nietzschean view of fundamental ontology

To jump right into the middle of the whole problem, we can start with the basic distinction that determines the whole character of fundamental ontology—the distinction between the authentic and inauthentic existence. We have already outlined some features of the authentic existence that is to be viewed on the background of the Dionysian element. However, we shall not forget that, in The Birth of Tragedy, there is, besides the Dionysian element, also the Apollonian element. If the authentic existence must be perceived in connection with the Dionysian ecstasy and with the inherent disintegration of the individual existence, the Apollonian element will thus logically play a crucial part in the description of the inauthentic existence. While the authentic existence proves its eccentric and ecstatical character by exposing itself to the Dionysian ecstasy which undermines any individuation and individualization, the inauthentic existence remains in the safe zone of the Apollonian element, where the individual existence is kept and protected from the disturbing influence of the Dionysian forces. Since, for Nietzsche, Apollo is a synonym of the principium individuationis, whereas the Dionysian element breaks the rule of individuality and subjectivity, we must overturn the common understanding of the inauthentic existence: Rather than self-alienation and depersonalization, it is the preservation of one’s own individuality that characterizes the inaunthentic existence. Contrary to the authentic existence that exposes itself to the disintegrating influence of the Dionysian element, the inauthentic existence closes itself in the sphere which allows it to preserve the basic integrity of its own being. In the sphere of the Dionysian madness, an individual cannot relate to its own being, for it forgets itself to such an extent that it does not recognize itself anymore, but the Apollonian reasonability allows an existing individual to relate to its own being with understanding. The opposition between the Dionysian madness and the Apollonian reasonability is also strengthened by the fact that the Apollonian element is the element of order, measure and proportion—the element in which the world has clear contours and offers intelligible meanings—while the Dionysian element opens a formless and bottomless abyss that gapes under the ordered forms and codified meanings of the Apollonian world. Under the intelligible structure of the Apollonian world where one feels at home and at ease there lurks the uncanny dimension of Dionysus in which an individual disappears while experiencing enormous joy and enormous suffering. This joy and suffering in which an existing individual disappears comes from the experience of the difference that is perceptible rather than intelligible. The difference that becomes perceptible in the uncanny dimension of Dionysus penetrates “us” as a dissonance which suddenly disturbs the feeling of a total, all-inclusive unity. In this sense one could say that the uncanny sphere of Dionysus is the sphere of the primordial difference that precedes all Apollonian differentiation.

A close reading of The Birth of Tragedy, however, makes it clear that the true problem of this work is not a simple contradiction between the Apollonian and Dionysian element. Rather than contenting himself with a juxtaposition of both elements, Nietzsche deals with the problem of their connection and disconnection. Despite the radical contradiction between both elements, the relation between them does not have to be disjunctive, but it can be conjunctive as well. In fact, it is precisely the conjunctive relation between the Apollonian and Dionysian element that is considered to be the most valuable and productive, whereas the disjunctive relation between them always bears signs of a pathological decay or stagnation. What is bad is neither Dionysus, nor Apollo, but the separation and absolutization of both elements. It is therefore with this in mind that we must approach our revision of the distinction between the authentic and inauthentic existence.

It would be a great mistake to identify the authentic existence with the Dionysian element and the inauthentic existence with the Apollonian element. That such identification is impossible follows already from a basic insight into the nature of the Dionysian element: if the authentic existence were identical with the Dionysian element, it would immediately perish in the gaping abyss of the Dionysian sphere. In order to preserve itself, the authentic existence must exist between both two spheres, and so it is indeed: The authentic existence spreads itself between the Apollonian and Dionysian spheres. It transgresses the realm of the Apollonian world, but instead of leaving it definitively, it remains at the border between the Apollonian and Dionysian spheres. The authenticity of the authentic existence consists in that it connects in itself and by itself two mutually contradictory dimensions, whereas inauthenticity of the inauthentic existence is due to its self-confinement in one of the two dimensions. When the inauthentic existence closes itself in the Apollonian world, where it feels at home and at ease, it fails to exist fully and sentences itself to an infinite stagnation which allows nothing but endless variations of old forms of thinking, perceiving and acting. The authentic existence, quite to the contrary, transgresses the realm of the codified meanings and well-established forms in order to confront itself with the meaninglessness and formlessness of the uncanny dimension in which the primordial difference can be experienced only as a dissonance. Such a transgression, nevertheless, is not possible without a danger of the total self-destruction which inseparably belongs to the nature of the Dionysian element. The danger inherent to the uncanny sphere of the Dionysian element, where the individual experiences the primordial difference at the cost of its own disintegration, demonstrates how naive would be any glorification of the Dionysian ecstasy. Instead of praising the Dionysian madness and condemning the Apollonian reasonableness, we should realize that either element has its own dangers that come to the fore when either of the two is absolutized: while the Dionysian element threatens the individual existence with total disintegration, the Apollonian element confines the existing individual to the habitual forms of thinking, perceiving and acting. On the other hand, each element has its specific function that makes it indispensable: The Dionysian element opens the existence for new ways of thinking, perceiving and acting, whereas the Apollonian element allows the existence to preserve its individual integrity. Rather than rating one element higher than the other, we shall therefore ask to what extent we can expose ourselves to the uncanniness of the Dionysian element and to what extent we must stay in the safe and ordered area of the Apollonian world.

The question of a balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian element is all the more important in that we move above the gaping abyss in which we can recognize the abyss of our finitude. As for the conceptualization of finitude, Nietzsche demonstrates that life includes death, for the Dionysian death of the individual is an immanent part of life. Heidegger seemingly suggest something very similar when subordinating the ontology of life to the ontology of being-there, but a closer examination of his fundamental ontology shows an important difference from the Nietzschean view: Death and dying belong to the existence only as its individual qualities. “In dying,” claims Heidegger, “it is shown that mineness and existence are ontologically constitutive for death.”8 This is why existential analysis of death and dying is based on the ontological structure of existence which has an essentially individual character.9 Even though the possibility of death—as the ownmost and most extreme possibility—is an essential part of existence, death as such then means the end of existence which—in the moment of death—changes from being-there to no-longer-being-there. Death is the outside of existence and this outside can be interiorized only in the form of possibility. A Nietzschean revision of Heidegger thus requires revising the existential notion of death in such a sense that death is taken not only as a possibility of individual existence, but also as an actual collapse of the individual structure of existence. This concept of death exposes death not only as the possibility that gives itself in the mode of futurity—possibility that is the most future of all possibilities—but also, and above all, as the actuality of the disintegration of the individual existence. If Heidegger subordinates death as the ownmost and most extreme possibility to the ontological structure of care that guarantees the existential unity of the individual existence, Nietzschean revision of the existential analysis presupposes that the unified structure of care is again and again disrupted by the subversive power of the Dionysian death. That the unified structure of care is not destroyed completely is then possible only by virtue of the Apollonian principle which—as a counterbalance of the Dionysian principle—functions simultaneously as a principle of individuation.

Considering that the Dionysian sphere is more primordial than the Apollonian world, however, it is evident how radically we now understand the topic of finitude: The individual existence is observed not from the perspective of its own Jemeinigkeit, but from the perspective of its end. This strange perspective from which the individual existence appears as an ephemeral epiphenomenon makes it possible to talk about a post-existential analysis, instead of the existential analysis. While the existential analysis emphasizes the individual existence that preserves its individuality throughout the whole existence, the post-existential analysis takes the end of the individual existence as its point of departure. The end of the individual existence is a point of departure as well as a point of final return. In the post-existential analysis, finitude is constitutive of the individual existence, not since death would serve as a principium individuationis, but because the individual existence persists only as long as it remains at a distance from the infinite ungrounding by which it is compellingly attracted. To the extent that the individual existence engages in its own being-towards-end, it abandons and loses itself in the a-personal dimension of the infinite ungrounding. As being-towards-end the individual existence does not relate itself to the death as to its ownmost and most extreme possibility; rather, it exposes itself to the sphere in which it dissolves and perishes.

Such radicalization of the existential being-towards-end necessarily changes not only the relation of the individual existence to its own being—in the sense that the individual existence relates to its own end by giving up its individuality—but also the relation of the individual to the others. The point is that the individual existence cannot leave the realm of its co-existence with others, i.e. the realm of being-with-others, while keeping its own individuality. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche leaves no doubt that the Apollonian world is not only the guarantor of individuality, but also the guarantor of social co-existence in all its forms including family and state organization. The individual existence and social co-existence are thus inseparably tied together. One is not possible without the other. When leaving the safe and familiar environment of the Apollonian world and exposing itself to the uncanny abyss of the Dionysian element, the existence thus abandons both its individuality and its well-ordered co-existence with others. This relinquishing of one’s own individuality and escaping from the bounds of social co-existence happens as a rapture in which the feeling of an infinite unity is permeated by a difference experienced as a strange dissonance. The Dionysian difference can be experienced only under the conditions of depersonalization and desocialization.

In any case, the way the post-existential notion of inter-subjectivity differs from the existential image of the relation between the individual and the others is obvious: Contrary to the existential analysis which takes for granted that the individual being-there can stand alone in its own openness and experience its uniqueness and separateness from the others, as it happens, for instance, in the uncanny disposition of anxiety, the post-existential analysis shows the essential interconnectedness of the individual and social existence. Instead of opposing the inauthenticity as a mode of existence in which being-there forgets its individuality in its co-existence with the others to the authenticity which allows being-there to find its unique individuality and assume a personal responsibility for its own being in an escape from the world of social co-existence (an escape that is never finished, but must be repeated again and again), the post-existential analysis brings us to the conclusion that the radical desocialization is necessarily accompanied by the disintegration of the individual existence. If there is a difference between the inauthentic and authentic existence in the post-existential analysis, it is the difference between the existence that preserves its own individuality in the world of social co-existence and the existence that experiences its own end in the escape from the well-ordered structures of co-existence with others.

Such view of co-existence with others may remind us of the notion of inter-subjectivity formulated by British psychologist Laing in his works The Divided Self and The Politics of the Family. According to Laing, the personal integrity of an individual depends on the set of his/her relations with others. Yet, the others with whom the individual is involved are not abstract people, but concrete individuals that are somehow familiar to the individual and to each other. These individuals are connected by the shared feeling of familiarity; they create and preserve a close environment of familiarity, which is why Laing calls every set of inter-subjective relations “a family.” Even though he talks primarily about real families, he uses the notion of ‘family’ in a much broader sense: ‘Family’ is for him not only a set of relations between relatives, but also any other set of well-established inter-subjective relations. In a similar way as our real family, church or political party allow us to define who we are and to keep our personal integrity inside the established structure of co-existence with others: “[w]e feel ourselves to be One in so far as each of us has inside himself a presence common to all brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Party, or in the family.”10 As long as the structure of the ‘family’ is internalized by our own self and projected onto others who internalize it as well, we feel at home and at ease regardless of all the problems we might have with them. The ‘family’ then serves as a defense or bulwark against the disintegration of our self and the total collapse of our experience; but once the inter-subjective structure of the ‘family’ is disturbed by a radical change, such as the death or desertion of one of the members of the ‘family,’ our own self becomes insecure and our experience puzzled. As Laing puts it “the preservation of the ‘family’ is equated with the preservation of self and world and the dissolution of the ‘family’ inside another is equated with death of self and world-collapse.”11

No matter how radically it sounds, most of us have experienced something like this in the period of puberty, when we tried to liberate ourselves from old family ties and define who we really are. No wonder that it is precisely the period of puberty, when we separate ourselves from old forms of familial life and discover who we are, that elicits so many cases of schizophrenia. However, these unsuccessful attempts to set and keep one’s own independent existence clearly demonstrate that one cannot constitute one’s own self beyond an intimate and familiar sphere of co-existence with others. All we can do is to discover our own self in a new form of co-existence with others, be it a new way of co-existence with the original members of our ‘family,’ or a completely new type of the collectivity.

We can also understand now what it means to encounter somebody who does not fit into the personal structures of our ‘family,’ or something that does not fit into the semantic structures of our world. Provided we do not try to suppress such an encounter by subsuming it under the established structures of our experience, the encounter with otherness exposes us to the uncanny dimension of the infinite ungrounding in which we lose our possession of ourselves as well as a clear view of the world. In the encounter with a stranger or with something strange, we are puzzled and our experience is blurred. We may say that such an unexpected encounter with otherness decontextualizes our experience and shatters the whole semantic structure of our world. In the true encounter with otherness we do not appropriate this otherness; rather, we enter into otherness as into the sphere in which we experience a radical difference. This difference is not something we understand, but shows us the limits of our understanding. In the encounter with otherness, our pre-understanding of the given situation fails and we are exposed to the difference which marks the limits of our understanding, attesting thereby to finitude of our existence. What we encounter in the encounter with otherness is the finitude of our own existence.

As for the problem of finitude which is experienced in and through radical difference, Vattimo is convinced that it is this difference that—as ungrounding—brings an irrevocable discontinuity to our existence. In The Adventure of Difference, he shows that the hermeneutical circle of understanding, and thus the hermeneutical continuum of the individual existence, allowing being-there to go from one possibility to another without being definitively bound to any one of them and without making any leaps, is in fact based on the fundamental discontinuity.12 This discontinuity which establishes the very possibility of understanding is in itself given by our relation to that which is beyond the understanding of the individual existence. The hermeneutical continuity of the individual existence is suspended in relation to the fundamental discontinuity that opens itself as the gaping abyss in which the individual existence and its whole intentional structure finds its end. It is nothing but this being-towards-end which undermines the continuity of the individual existence as well as the continuity of co-existence with others by the discontinuity. Since the hermeneutic continuity of being-there constitutes the integral continuum of its historicity, we can also say together with Vattimo that the historical continuity of existence is ultimately marked by the discontinuity that is in itself a-historical, even though it opens a dimension in which historicity becomes possible. The continuity of the historical course of being-there and the historical stretching along of being-there from its birth to its death are always already opened by the discontinuity of the ungrounding in which being-towards-end is realized.

Yet, from the phenomenon of historicity there is only one step to the problem of temporality. How can we conceive of temporality which constitutes the ungrounding of being-there and its being-towards-end? This question takes us necessarily beyond the standard view of temporality derived from Being and Time; i.e. it takes us beyond the image of the ecstatical unity of temporality which constitutes the ontological structure of being-there and guarantees the individual integrity of its existence. The ecstatical unity of the present, the having-been and the future may well explain the existential integrity of the individual existence as well as its hermeneutic and historical continuity, but can it elucidate the temporal conditions of ungrounding in which a radical discontinuity of the individual existence appears? How can we describe the temporal constitution of existence that leaves the established structures of social co-existence while losing its individual integrity? What can we say about the temporal conditions of rapture in which the individual existence finds its end?

A response may be found in Vattimo’s claim that ungrounding means nothing but the denial and de-stitution of presence.13 Insofar as ungrounding in which the radical discontinuity of the individual existence supervenes amounts to the refusal of presence, it is possible to describe temporality of ungrounding as temporality without the present. The temporality of ungrounding marked by the absence of the present can be characterized as the temporal disunity in which only ecstasies of the having-been and the future remain. The temporality of ungrounding is a weak, broken temporality which brings forth the interruption of all historical and hermeneutical continuity in relation to the end of the individual existence. The interruption of the historical and hermeneutical continuity, nevertheless, can be grasped only as an event. As an event, the disruption of the historical and hermeneutical continuity does not belong to the historical and hermeneutical course of existence, even though the continuous course of existence is constituted by it. The temporal disunity of an event that is never present, but announces itself only from the dimensions of the having-been and the future, precedes the temporal unity of all three temporal ecstasies. The weak, broken temporality of the event hides itself behind the strong, unified temporality of the continuous course of the individual and the collective existence as its subversive and divisive foundation. Moreover, it is the event’s temporal disunity that brings the difference in its pure otherness. The difference does not appear as something present, but only in the refusal of the present which characterizes the weak, broken temporality of event. The difference announces itself in an event and as an event. Any encounter with the otherness of difference has the temporal structure of the event whose actuality lacks the present, for it gives itself only in the dimensions of the having-been and the future.

3 The event according to Maldiney

This notion of event can be further elaborated and extended with the help of Maldiney’s conceptualization of event-advent which matches with it neatly. When Henri Maldiney speaks about event-advent, he does not situate the event only into the temporal dimension of future as something that comes to us from the future. Rather, he understands the event as the advent of “something” that has already been. The event is for him given in the temporal dimensions of the having-been and the future. The event is related to the most extreme having-been as well as to the most extreme future.14 Provided there is some having-been in the event, it is not the having-been of the individual existence and its facticity; and if there is some future, it is not the future of the individual existence and its understanding. It is the having-been and the future of ungrounding itself. The temporality of ungrounding brings together the absolute having-been and the absolute future which creates an explosive mixture in which the whole semantic structure of the world falls apart. Hence, the event functions as a temporal explosion that destroys the old world to which we are used and opens a new one. In the event, the old world with which we are familiar explodes and a new semantic context of our existence is being opened.

With respect to Maldiney’s conceptualization of the event, one thing must be stated clearly: Event-advent does not take place in the world, but opens the world; it opens a whole new world, rather than just bringing some new content into the old semantic totality of the world.15 One must therefore carefully distinguish event-advent which creates a totally new context of our existence from a pseudo-event which conserves the old context of our existence while drawing our attention to some particular occurrence. Instead of opening a new world, the pseudo-event in fact prevents the advent of the event, as it happens, for instance, in the case of paranoid delusions, where the same threat appears again and again in new forms, without changing anything in the semantic structure of the paranoid world, or in the modern mass media that bombard us with series of pseudo-events in order to avoid the true event-advent that would change our current way of life. Both the world of paranoid delusions and the world of modern mass media are closed to the advent of the event and make impossible the opening of a new semantic context of the world.

The reason why paranoid individuals and paranoid mass media fail to accept event-advent is their pre-understanding which grasps all events as its own possibilities. Pseudo-events are then expected and accepted as possibilities projected by the act of understanding. Event-advent, however, does not have the character of possibility; it is beyond the area of the possible, beyond the Heideggerian possibilities that are projected by the act of understanding. Event-advent surpasses the scope of hermeneutical understanding, which is why it appears as something incomprehensible. It seems that event-advent comes from the area of the impossible, but its real dimension is, according to Maldiney, dimension of trans-possibility.16 Beyond all possibility, beyond all anticipation and comprehension, event-advent shows itself as trans-possibility. While all the surprises we experience in the context of our habitual world are only relative, as they are always understood in the context of our possibilities to which they more or less fit, trans-possibility of the event comes as an absolute sur-prise that is not mediated by the hermeneutical machinery of our understanding. The trans-possibility of the event has a character of donation which precedes all anticipation and appropriation of our understanding. The facticity of this donation is not the facticity which confronts being-there with the simple fact “that it is and has to be,” but the facticity of otherness which comes totally unexpected. The donation of otherness cannot be anticipated by the project of our understanding; otherness can be announced only in an unexpected encounter. The encounter with otherness must be essentially unexpected, otherwise it would not be an encounter with otherness.

However, one may then ask after the kind of relation we have to an event which comes as a surprising encounter with otherness, if it does not belong to the realm of our own possibilities and if it is not involved in the hermeneutical process of our understanding. Does such an event even concern us? Are we not necessarily indifferent to “something” that is beyond our understanding and beyond its anticipating power? How do we take over the gift of otherness, if we cannot appropriate it? Maldiney resolves these problems by the inversion of perspectives: Instead of approaching the event from the perspective of the individual existence which appropriates it by the power of its understanding, he views the individual existence from the perspective of the event. From this perspective, he can demonstrate that the individual existence in its encounter with otherness does not necessarily appropriate the event, but that it is, quite to the contrary, overwhelmed and expropriated by the event’s power. Rather than appropriating the event, the individual existence is expropriated by it. To do justice to the event, the individual existence must give up its own autonomy and accept the radical heteronomy to which it is exposed in its encounter with the unexpected arrival of otherness. In its relation to event-advent which confronts it with otherness, the individual existence must go beyond itself and become other.17 The true relation to otherness which is announced in the event is not possible without becoming-other in which the individual existence experiences the disintegration and re-integration of its own self. By this radical transformation, existence proves its ecstatical character which goes far beyond its own autonomy and integrity.

To find a concrete example of an event which initiates the transformation of our existence by forcing us to become other, we do not have to go very far. We can think of something as “simple” and “common” as the birth of a child which is a perfect example of an event that confronts us with an unexpected otherness. No matter how well prospective parents prepare for their new roles, they finally realize that they are not prepared enough and that their child surprises them by its unique otherness. The new-born baby that is not connected with other people by the common milieu of language is much more of a stranger than any adult; it presents itself with an irreducible otherness which often throws its parents to a deepest despair. When they do not understand why their child cries, what it wants and what they are supposed to do, they look right into the abyss of ungrounding which sets them out of their former way of existence. The birth of a new child fundamentally changes the existence of its parents—they must transform themselves according to the demands of their new situation, or, better said, they must allow their new situation to change them. They can also refuse such a transformation, but then they would fail to do justice to the event of the birth of a new life. This event itself is, as student Shatov in Dostoyevsky’s Demons attests, a great mystery that cannot be fully explained by natural sciences. The appearance of a new life, “a new thought and new love,” is an event par excellence. It is something which surpasses our own possibilities as well as the projective structure of our understanding—it is a pure trans-possibility. As such a trans-possibility, the birth of a child is an event that destroys the semantic context of the world in which baby’s parents and their relatives used to live. For the parents and their relatives, the birth of a new child is not a pseudo-event that takes place in their world, but an event that opens a new world for them. In this sense, it is event-advent which makes the old semantic structure of the world explode and opens a new set of meanings that give a meaning to our existence.

One could give many other examples of moments in which we encounter otherness in the others or in ourselves, but what is remarkable with respect to Maldiney’s notion of event-advent is the complete absence of ethical terms in his description of the encounter with otherness due to which we become other. Instead of describing the exposure to otherness that transforms our existence in terms of personal responsibility, Maldiney prefers terms that go with his orientation on psychopathology. It is, of course, not psychopathology in the normative, psychiatric sense, but psychopathology in its original sense, i.e. in the sense of PATHEIN. Insofar as suffering essentially belongs to the encounter with otherness due to which we go beyond ourselves and become other, it is easy to see why somebody avoids such an encounter and prefers the conservation of the current way of existence. When Medard Boss, in his Grundriss der Medizin und der Psychologie, mentions a young mother who suffered a psychotic breakdown and recovered once she got a chance to live alone without her children, it is obvious that for her the conservation of the former way of existence was the only way to save the individual integrity of her existence. The event of becoming-mother exposed her to the infinite ungrounding in which the integrity of her existence was disturbed to such an extent that she could not accept it any more. The same incapacity to accept the event by going through a deep transformation of one’s own existence applies to all psychotics. According to Maldiney, psychosis in general may be described as an incapacity to go through an event: A psychotic either projects the paranoid structure of the world in which nothing new can happen, or falls into the abyss of ungrounding, in which both the individual and its world disintegrate.18 When the event turns out to be “too big” for psychotic, it must be constantly evaded by a series of pseudo-events. After the first terrible disruption of one’s own integrity, there is no place for a new event, no place for a new encounter with otherness. The suffering evoked by the event of the encounter with otherness is here so enormous that it is impossible to withstand it.

The suffering which overwhelms us in event-advent, however, has also another—a deeper meaning: Due to its specific character event can be only suffered. As trans-possibility, event-advent is beyond the power of our understanding which projects its possibilities. The event does not belong to the sphere of the individual Seinkönnen. It concerns us not to the extent to that we project our own possibilities, but to the extent to that we are passible. What the event as an encounter with otherness requires is not our potential to project possibilities, but our “passibility.”19 Trans-possibility of event-advent gives itself only to our passibility which expresses both essential passivity and fundamental heteronomy. It is thanks to our passibility that we can accept the donation of otherness which is given to us in an event.

If we realize that the event initiates and requires a deep transformation of our individual existence which must die and be born again in event, and that there is not just one event, but many events in which we encounter otherness, we can talk, together with Maldiney, about trans-passibility.20 Due to the trans-passibility of our existence we go through numerous crises in which our individual existence disintegrates and reintegrates, while the semantic structure of our world collapses and is shaped again. Every event is a crisis in which we go beyond ourselves in order to discover new forms of our existence. Trans-passibility may be therefore seen as trans-subjectivity that reflects the character of an existence which goes beyond its own subjectivity and becomes other in every encounter with otherness. Even though the relation to otherness is not limited only to inter-subjectivity, but involves many other encounters with otherness, we may see trans-subjectivity also as an extreme mode of inter-subjectivity, provided we understand that trans-subjectivity corresponds not to the habitual structure of co-existence with the others which conserves subject’s own self-identity, but to the encounter with the other who’s otherness makes subject transgress its own limits and discover itself anew. Falling in love or becoming-parent would be nice examples of such an encounter. In any case, the existence to which we attribute the essential character of trans-subjectivity is open to events and unexpected encounters. It is the existence that allows events to draw it out of its habitual world and expose it to the abyss of infinite ungrounding.

4 Conclusion

When we look at the way Maldiney approaches the abyss of ungrounding in which otherness itself appears, we can notice how many Dionysian features it has. The space in which the event as such takes place, i.e. the space of ungrounding that is between two worlds (the one that does not exist any more and the other that does not yet exist) is, strictly speaking, a non-space. This non-space of ungrounding is far from the spatial organization of the Apollonian world; instead of the well-ordered spatial coordinates environed by the horizon, it shows all signs of the spatial disorganization that is proper to the Dionysian element. Such a view is in correspondence with Vattimo’s attempt at Nietzschean re-interpretation of the fundamental ontology which links the problem of difference with the topology of ungrounding. We are thus probably not mistaken if we believe that both Vattimo and Maldiney reach the area of trans-subjective thought that gives up its own autonomy, coherence and integrity in favor of event. They both enter into the area beyond the space of the fundamental ontology which binds thought in the unified structure of care; it is the area of care-less thought which leaves all its power to the authority of event, encounter and surprise.

Yet, isn’t the encounter of Vattimo and Maldiney in the area of care-less thought still rather accidental and arbitrary? As for Vattimo, his Nietzschean re-description of the fundamental ontology is evident—but what about Maldiney? What kind of relation does he have to Nietzsche? To answer this question, we can look at his essay “Destins de Nietzsche et Hölderlin” where he analyses the thought of both thinkers-poets in a symptomatic way: Nietzsche is here depicted as a thinker that reflects the conditions of his own disaster and by giving report about the conditions enabling the breakdown of his thought he elucidates the very nature of thought.21 This nature which is hidden behind all semantic structures has primarily a Dionysian character. It is the Dionysian sphere of disintegrated Self from which thought arises and into which it falls again. The Dionysian sphere of pure PATHOS—PATHOS that cannot be reduced to any form of Befindlichkeit in which the individual existence finds itself—announces itself from the absolute having-been and the absolute future as an event.22 The power of Dionysos is the power of an ahistoric event which precedes and constitutes all historicity of thought. If there is any outside in human history and human thought, it is the outside of event that is beyond the realm of possible because it belongs to the realm of trans-possible.23 From the perspective of the individual existence and its self-awareness an event appears always as impossible, for it is in fact trans-possible. But when the measure of receptivity required by the trans-possibility of the event is exceeded, the individual existence—no matter how hypertrophied its ego—is replaced by “the self disintegrated or absent, the self without the self of Dionysos.”24

Considering the above-mentioned insight into the conditions enabling the radical breakdown of thought, it is not surprising that the whole of Maldiney’s conception of mental disorder bears some Nietzschean traits. Since the event doesn’t take place in the semantic context of the world, but instead destroys the old world while creating a new one, the irruption of an event appears as a critical state in which our old identity is shattered and we are forced to become others according to the demands of the concrete event. What characterizes the psychopathological situation, however, is not the event as such; rather, it is the agony in which the ungrounding power of the event becomes unbearable, and thus it must be avoided at all costs. Psychotics, claims Maldiney, have no choice—they are so overwhelmed by the disruptive intrusion of the event, that they must evade it in order to survive and they spend all their life energy to do so. Psychotics cannot stand the event.25 When the trans-possibility of an event becomes impossible, it provokes a disjunction of the Dionysian sphere of the disordered PATHOS and the ordered regime of the Apollonian world. Such disjunction associated with the evading of the Dionysian dimension of formless ungrounding then corresponds with Nietzsche’s own insight into the heart of the existential decline. In opposition to it stands the Nietzchean image of “the great health” which is not just health in the sense of a perfect life equilibrium, but rather the health “that one doesn’t only have, but also acquires continually and must acquire because one gives it up again and again and must give it up,” i.e. the health that goes through critical moments when the old world collapses and the new one appears, when the old self disintegrates and the new one is born out of the event in which the radical difference is encountered.26

This Nietzschean motive of the great health is also projected on Maldiney’s own reception of Heidegger’s philosophy. Even though Maldiney often uses terminology of existential analysis, he does so only in order to show its inner limits and to go beyond them. Instead of indulging in merciless criticism (others satisfied the demand of such criticism more than enough), he deconstructs the ontological structures grasped by the existential analysis from the perspective of the event, as the concepts of trans-possibility and trans-passibility clearly document it. On the other hand, this unorthodox usage of the existential analytic and its terminology takes its power also from Heidegger’s elucidations of Hölderlin’s poetry where we discover motifs of the event and suffering which destroy the individual structure of existence.27 It is perhaps the work and tragic destiny of Hölderlin and Nietzsche that allows Maldiney to break the limits of the existential analytics and enter the domain of the post-existential analytics where he finds sym-pathy for those who cannot endure the confusion and disorder to which they are exposed by the power of the event.


Vattimo (1993, p. 130).


Vattimo (1993, p. 130).


Heidegger (1962, p. 62).


Vattimo (1993, p. 5).


Vattimo (1993, p. 4).


Vattimo (1993, p. 6).


Vattimo (1993, p. 4).


Heidegger (1962, p. 284).


See Heidegger (1962, pp. 290, 291).


Laing (1972, p. 5).


Laing (1972, p. 14).


Vattimo (1993, pp. 126, 127, 151, 152, 154).


See Vattimo (1993, p. 4).


Maldiney (1991, pp. 415, 417).


Maldiney (1991, p. 317): “Un événement ne se produit pas dans le monde: il ouvre le monde.”


Maldiney (1991, p. 313).


Maldiney (1991, p. 320).


Maldiney (1991, pp. 316, 317, 318, 320).


Maldiney (1991, p. 321).


Maldiney (1991, p. 419).


Maldiney (1985, pp. 129–169).


Maldiney (1985, pp. 132, 133)


Maldiney (1985, p. 136).


Maldiney (1985, p.149). Translated by author.


Maldiney (2001, p. 75).


Nietzsche (2001, p. 246).


Heidegger (2000).



This article was written as a part of the research projects ‘Investigations of the Subjectivity: between Phenomenology and Psychotherapy’ (The Grant Agency of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic—IAA90090603), ‘Emotionality and Corporeality’ (Czech Science Foundation—401/07/P293), and ‘Philosophical Investigations of Corporeality: Trans-disciplinary Perspectives’ (Czech Science Foundation—P401/10/1164).

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010