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At the beginning, there was two

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Article by Umberto Galimberti - Psicologia Contemporanea Jan-Feb 2018

To grasp human consciousness at its point of emergence means to grasp the reciprocal gaze where the one and the other, by looking at each other, gain their respective identities. Indeed, identity is not an individual prerogative, but a social fact.

At the beginning, there is not the One, as all religions and philosophies try to persuade us, but the Two.

This is how they envision the genesis of the world and the genesis of each of us when, in the mother's womb, we are both one and the other, and only after separation do we become one.

For this reason, bringing oneself to the beginning means grasping the division of the original Unity, where the One is questioned by the Other.

It's pointless to gaze in search of the One from which everything originates because there is nothing to see there. Sight begins afterward, once the separation has already occurred, once the Son has separated from the Father, once Prometheus' wisdom has separated from Zeus' violence, once time has ceased to repeat itself to unfold in the succession of days, once tradition has made revelation discursive, and once history has shattered the immobility of being.

In this place, which is the beginning in its becoming, Nietzsche cast his gaze when, on a day in 1882 in Sils Maria, he was shaken by this revelation: "Here I stood and waited. I waited for nothing. Beyond good and evil, now enjoying the light, now the shadow. All just simple play. And sea and midday, all time without end. And suddenly, my friend! Here the One became Two - and Zarathustra passed me by."

But how and why did the One become Two? The question arises from the Two. Because the One cannot question itself without doubling.

The double, doubt, and the devil are metaphorical remnants of this event, and Descartes understood nothing when he saw doubt enter as a malevolent devil into consciousness. It's not consciousness that doubts, as Descartes and all his seduced followers - scientists of every rank and order, experts in "exact" and "human" matters - like to think, but it's doubt, as the discovery of the double, that opens up consciousness. And, with consciousness, questioning, which is only radical when it asks: why day and night? Why light and darkness? Where the question doesn't arise from the night or the darkness but from that 'and,' which, highlighting the double aspect of the identical, generates the Unsettling.

What generates unsettlement is therefore not reality, not the darkness of the night, but the questioning about day and night. Questioning leads out of that opaque tone, which is the solitude of light unrelated to darkness, to its other. There is no unsettlement in the principle of identity because where reality does not appear in its double, questioning and doubt do not arise.

"Double" and "doubt" have the same root, as in German, Zweifel ("doubt") and Zwei ("two"). Doubt, which arises by splitting the unquestioned original Unity, is born from the double of every reality, from the discovery of the opposition between good and evil, true and false, just and unjust, pure and impure.

This discovery, as the origin of doubt and questioning, marks the birth of consciousness, which is con-science, a debate between one and the other.

Doubt expresses the division of the unquestioned original Unity, where, as we said above, the One is questioned by the Other.

Bringing oneself to the beginning does not mean regressing or curling up in childhood but exactly the opposite: it means grasping human consciousness at its inception, where the Two, the One and the Other, confront each other, mutually gaining their identity. Identity, in fact, is not a natural event that we acquire at birth. Our identity depends on the recognition of the other. In a sense, we can say that identity is not an individual prerogative but a social fact. Others reinforce or mortify it with their recognition or non-recognition.

This means that the relationship comes before the individual. And if our uniqueness is expressed in our identity, well, this uniqueness is given to us by the recognition of the other.

Once again, it can be said that at the beginning, there is not the One, but the Two.

Only beginning from the Two do we understand why a human is essentially an animal with language (the Aristotelian "zoon logon echon") and, therefore, a social animal since no one speaks alone without doubling. This is why, in the Greek world, primacy belonged to the community (polis), about which Aristotle, in the Politics (Book I, 1253a), states: "The polis exists by nature and is prior to each individual, simply because no individual is self-sufficient. Thus, someone who cannot enter into a community or does not feel the need for it due to self-sufficiency is not part of the polis and, consequently, is either a beast or a god."

Plato holds the same view, and in the Laws (Book X, 903c), he writes: "Even that small part which you represent, poor man, has an intimate relationship with the Whole and an orientation towards it, so you are right if you adjust yourself to the universal harmony."

The whole man - Plato warns us in the Symposium through the mouth of Aristophanes - is not the individual.

The individual is more like the "symbol of a man, the half that seeks its other half from which it has been separated". The other half with which we try to reunite in every act of love, which is memory - an attempt to restore from the ancient Unity - and defeat. Indeed, after being momentarily reunited in the act of love, everyone returns to the solitude of their uniqueness.

Our eyes are opaque and dark, and our decisions are casual and confused if our gaze does not grasp that Beginning from which history set out only to eventually return.

History, in fact, for all its diversity, is actually the uninterrupted reenactment of that original division of the One into Two and of the mutual recognition that this division establishes between one and the other. (Article translated with the support of OpenAI)

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