Overview

Heterology is a mode of thinking that is both subject-oriented and relational. It involves the use of dynamically emerging ideas, observations, and news to search for larger constellations, with the goal of not only gaining insight but also transforming subjectivity. Our daily experiences are already shaped by our subjectivity, which we often know little about. The way we live our lives today and our changing expectations for the future configure these experiences and transformations of subjectivity.

To conceptually grasp totalities, relational thinking is essential. However, heterological thinking goes beyond this by considering “otherness” as a fundamental aspect of reality. It embraces contradictions and mutually exclusive concepts, holding them together as complementary expressions of an obscure reality. The process begins by positing an initial object, social fact, or concept (thesis) and then introducing a second term that can be seen as its ‘other’ (hetero-thesis). These concepts, taken together, create a conceptual space of the totality that can be theoretically determined. This method is not merely a play with dialectical negation and mediation; it also involves determining an object’s limitations, alternatives, possibilities, and effects on the whole if it were absent. The aim is to understand a whole that cannot be directly comprehended through concepts by taking a detour. Language is slippery and produces its own meaning effects, but philosophy seeks to uncover the truths that shine through all our experiences.

The philosophical use of the term “Heterology” has roots in French and German traditions, including the works of Michel de Certeau, Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, as well as Kant, Hegel, Husserl, and Rickert. This method is grounded in the philosophical tradition that originated with Heraclitus’ statement, “Things keep their secrets,” and grew out of Kant’s epistemological problems with the “thing in itself” (“Ding an sich”). It also learns from Adorno’s micrological gaze, described at the end of “Negative Dialectics.” Gregory Bateson simplifies the basic question: “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster, and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you?”

In biology, “Heterology” refers to the absence of correspondence, relation, or analogy between different parts that are somehow congregated, in contrast to homology, which refers to similarity in structure due to common ancestors, tribal origins, or functional needs. The philosophical question arises: Can the absence of homology, mere heterogeneity, be turned into a philosophical method? Could this become a form of ontology for the 21st century, with its highly diverse and even contradictory forms of social reality?

The conceptual play with subject and object, identity and difference, sameness and otherness, is not mere formalism. It ultimately leads to epistemological disruptions and surprise effects in observers and participants. Reconfigurations of the self are triggered by strange encounters, sensual impressions, feelings of alienation and loss, occasional glimpses of the real, and exposure to life’s pervasive struggles. While we may still be able to recognize ourselves, the question remains: who will we have become?

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