In a comment to my last post on triads and divinities, my frequent commenter/interlocutor “dmf” points out a nice essay by Robert Gall called “From Daimonion to the ‘Last’ God: Socrates, Heidegger, and the God of the Thinker,” which Mark Fullmer has made available beyond the restricted-access community.
Gall distinguishes between the god of the religious believer, the god of the philosopher (“all those abstract ‘ultimate realities’ that have accumulated throughout the history of Western philosophy that complete some comprehensive, intellectual view of all that is”), and the “god of the theologian,” including those theological “knockoffs,” as Rorty calls them — like Tillich’s of Heidegger, Mark Taylor’s of Derrida, Richard Kearney’s of both (among others), process theologians’ of Whitehead, and, earlier, Aquinas’s of Aristotle — that appropriate philosophy for theology.
To these three Gall adds a fourth: the “god of the thinker.”
Gall focuses on the latter god, which he equates with Socrates’s “daimonion” and the more general Greek term “daimon,” and with Heidegger’s reworking (via Nietzsche) of the concept. The term has been resuscitated most notably, in a more popular vein, by post-Jungians like James Hillman and David Miller, though Gall doesn’t go into that use. It’s a fruitful line of thought that latter-day pagan philosophers (small or capital P) have tried to add to as well.
A few choice quotes can help flesh out the concept. My comments follow.
It is important that we hear the double sense of the Heraclitus fragment: one’s character is one’s daimon/ one’s daimon is one’s character. For the ancient Greeks your character is “given” to you in some sense; who you are is not completely within your control. “Your” actions reveal “your” character but are also something given to you, something sent by “something divine.”
[. . .]
This likewise seems to be the point of Socrates’ acknowledgment of his daimonion. “It” marks a puzzling site in his experience that is both “inside” and “outside” of who he is and what he does.
[. . .]
Daimon is the uncanny because it presents itself in everything ordinary — and is hence the most natural — without being the ordinary. With the ancient Greeks, the daemonic appears not only through elements “inside” the self (the passions, the blood) as noted above, but also “outside” the self — through wind, rain, fire, animals. Socrates himself makes a point of this in Xenophon’s Apology (12-13), noting that people take the sounds of birds to be omens from the gods. Continuing to elaborate on daimon, Heidegger notes its relation to daio (…), which Heidegger translates as “to present oneself in the sense of pointing and showing” (GA 54, 151; P, 102). This sense of pointing or showing relates to a significant characteristic of the Greek gods: they give signs and point (GA 54, 59; P, 40).
[. . .]
The astonishing being of the ordinary — what is strange and uncanny — takes name and figure and place in the work, as the god. The god is an indication, a sign, a hint, of how things are and who we are. As a result, daimonion points to being; daimon (and its cognates that acknowledge “the gods” or “divinity”) indicates invisible and ungraspable being itself, whereby what is divine is manifest in the abyssal space of being itself. Such, according to Heidegger, is the fundamental Greek experience of what is divine.
What Heidegger’s interpretations of daimon show is that the word is a recognition of something divine, overwhelming, unsurpassable, which emerges in, through, and from our actions and refuses our control. In that way the ancient Greeks came to know and find themselves dwelling in the neighborhood of the uncanny and strange.
And a key passage here:
What was meaningful and significant was not seen beyond this world, beyond the things in the world and the things that take place in the world, but in themselves and things themselves. The gods then are not objects of speculation or a theology but indications of the awesome forces and powers active in the world in and around us that reveal the significance of things. What is divine is incomprehensible not because it so utterly transcends us or is so esoteric by nature that we cannot understand it, but because it is so close, so near, so simple, so “ordinary,” and so specific to particular events and activities. [emphasis added]
This is clearly an immanent divinity, very similar to what I was getting at in my last post.
Gall’s reply to Heidegger’s famous Der Spiegel quote is also worth reproducing. First, Heidegger:
Only a god can save us. The only possibility available to us is that by thinking and composing (dichten) we prepare a readiness for the appearance of a god, or for the absence of a god in our going-down, for in the face of the god who is absent, we go-down.
The “going-down” here is a coming back down to earth from the speculative heights of traditional philosophy to abide in who we are. The “salvation” of which Heidegger speaks, then, is a matter of becoming who we are. To become who we are we need a measure, a god, something divine — which can even be an absence of god. [. . .]
Here, now, is the heart of the matter. Poetically naming daimön in conjunction with its heroes, Greek tragedy showed human beings and their actions “not as things that can be defined or described, but as problems,” resulting in “a questioning to which there can be no [final] answers.” Socrates thoughtfully echoed and acknowledged the question and questioning that we are by acknowledging his daimonion and the mission he had been given by the god. Heidegger, thoughtfully responding to the Greeks, to Hölderlin, to Nietzsche’s madman, speaks of the gods and the “last” god. All agree: the measure given by daimön, by the uncanny, by the “last” god, is questioning. Questioning, because it violates the familiar understanding of things and ourselves, “makes” things strange, “makes” us strange (who was and remains stranger than Socrates?). [emphasis added]
In questioning we become who we are, open to possibilities, open to the mysteries of the world and ourselves.
[. . .]
Despised by philosophers and the faithful (such that it eventually becomes an “evil spirit” or “demon” as early as Plato’s later writing), the god of the thinker is the daimon, the uncanny, the last god, that calls for questioning, whereby we are true to ourselves as thinkers — and as human beings. It is despised because it yields what is a “god-less thinking” (GA 1 1 , 77; ID 72) to both philosophy and religion yet is closer to what is divine than either reason or faith. This essential thinking is a “faith in doubt,” where the “faith” of philosophy, religion, and theologians is in doubt, in question, even as it shows faith in questioning, in inquiry, in asking the meaning of being. “Faith in doubt” reveals, and is revealed by, the daimon, the last god.
There are two semantic issues that I think are worth commenting on here. The first is to what extent the “questioning” Gall describes is purely a questioning in and through thinking, as opposed to calling for a movement beyond thinking — a practice, perhaps, of the “arts of the self,” as Foucault and William Connolly call them, which are really also arts of deconstructing “the self.” But insofar as Heideggerian thinking, like Peircian reason, is more than “mere” everyday thinking (and reason) — both Heidegger and Peirce push these terms to their limit points where they break open beyond themselves — then I’d feel comfortable with Gall’s proposal.
Secondly, there is the issue of whether this questioning leads merely to “becoming who we are,” as if who we are is predestined in some manner, just not quite actualized yet. This is something I find also in Hillman’s characterological focus on personal development, embodied in his “acorn” theory of the self. (Despite its popularity, this is not one of my favorite books of his.)
Much of Hillman’s writing follows a more Deleuzian trajectory where we don’t simply become “who we are” but we become other. The point, again, is that insofar as we think we already are ourselves, “becoming who we are” may bring satisfaction, but not much beyond that. On the other hand, insofar as we never are already ourselves, we may as well become who we are. The pop-Zen platitude of just “being what you are” (and where you are, etc.) is a platitude unless you realize that you are nothing — an open, cognizant, unconfined emptiness.
That is the beginning of becoming who you are. And it is all beginning.
So, to summarize: The gods question us in order that we can become who we are. And given that who we are is open, a matter of capacity and of becoming, their signs — their pointings and showings — indicate some of the possibilities of that capacity. Where we go from there neither of us knows in advance. But we bring our thinking (logic/reason), our acting (ethics), and our feeling (aesthetics) with us in that movement, with each of these always in process.
Following a Peircian understanding, I would call that not “the god of the thinker” but something more like the god of the artist. Of course, then we must define “artist,” which I would again do by recourse to Peirce (and Whitehead and Deleuze and Guattari): an aesthetico-ethico-logical laborer/lover/creator. Exercising those capacities in respect of the earth, the sky, the gods, and the mortals can make us who we just might be, over and over until we are no longer anywhere to be found.