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8 1 The Human as a Liminal Being The alien is a limit phenomenon par excellence. It arrives from elsewhere , even when it appears in our own house and own world. There can be no alien without an alien place. How much weight is given to the alien will thus depend on the kind of order in which our life, our experience, our language, our acts and deeds take shape. When the order becomes transformed, there is also a transformation of the alien which is as multifaceted as the orders which it transcends. The expression “the alien” is no less occasional than the expression “the ego.” The limit zones which expand between and beyond the orders are the breeding grounds for the alien. 1. Orders and Their Limits We are usually right to assume that orders do not merely have boundaries, but that boundaries emerge from ordering processes. Something is what it is by virtue of its separation from other things: stones, plants, animals, or human beings, natural or artificial things. However, when it comes to the human realm, the concept of boundary is a particularly restless one, because boundaries are constantly in question. The human being is characterized by the fact that its behavior is brought to certainty neither by instinctive regulations nor by some artificial programs; it is a creature that is not locked in by fixed boundaries, but rather relates to these boundaries in a certain manner. That goes for the limits of place and time, which define our concept of here and now, for the limits imposed by various prohibitions, which restrain our desires and deeds, and for the limits of understanding, which curb our thoughts. Therefore it is no wonder that the question of the limits of existence and those of the world should be found among the major themes in human history, be it Jehovah, who separates light from darkness, be it the immeasurable boundaries of the soul, be it the modern philosopher, who maps out the boundaries of pure reason, or be it the systems theorist, who presents the sublime gesture of creation in a minimalist formula: “Draw a distinction!” This already indicates that drawing boundaries, which leads to 9 T H E H U M A N A S A L I M I N A L B E I N G different sorts of orders and structures, does not merely have a pragmatic and regional, but also an epochal character. It may be assumed that every epoch (more specifically: every culture, society, environment, or form of life) behaves within certain boundaries, but that the relation to the boundaries, which is always accompanied by a certain politics, is subject to significant variations. The ways one handles boundaries serve as a clear indication of the underlying spirit of an epoch; it may also provide a commentary on that which has advanced modernity for such a long time, including what had preceded it or undermined and transgressed it. That the recently crossed threshold which leads us into the new century is definitely a very particular boundary is as true as the fact that we do not have a suitable language for that which lies ahead of us. 2. Boundless Universe For the sake of contrast, let us begin with the boundless universe, represented in our cultural tradition most succinctly by the Greek cosmos. The cosmos depicts a classical form of order, because it had played a paradigmatic role for a long period of time. The cosmos does not embody one order among a range of other possible orders; it embodies order as such. The only alternative to it is the unordered manifold of chaos. In this cosmos each being is given its own limited shape (pevra"), the boundaries of whichdelimit this being for itself and from its surroundings. The clear-cut shape is expressed in the conceptual definition (oJrismov"); since the times of Plato, it has been dialectics that related each being as the same to its other in a nexus of relations. This horizontal nexus is complemented by a vertical hierarchy, the proportions of which correspond to the degree to which the rational whole is reflected in the individual being. In that sense, the humans would stand above the animals, the Greeks above the barbarians, the man above the woman, the contemplation above the action . The participation in rationality, which discloses the law of the whole, is decisive for where one stands in the hierarchy of individual beings. This relational structure, which has...


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