This paper aims to rethink the peculiar conception of nothingness at work in Chaadaev’s key writings, the Philosophical Letters and the 1837 Apologia of a Madman, in which this nothingness, unbound by tradition, turns into a total, even revolutionary, ungrounding of the world-whole. This paper works with and through Chaadaev’s texts to expose his conception of immanent nothingness or the void of the Real that completely annihilates or empties out the mechanisms of history and tradition, thereby radically imploding the machinery of modernity. It is our hope that, as a result, Chaadaev’s position appears not only as a neglected genealogical element to contemporary critiques of modernity and its logic of reproduction through tradition and futurity, but also as a contribution to the ongoing critical rethinking of this logic in contemporary theory. Our aim in what follows is less to dwell with the fact that the non-historical void is, in Chaadaev, named “Russia” than it is to traverse the problematic of this terra nullius in order to make visible its aporias and ambivalences, as well as its real utopian force.
The stranger is strange, the xenos is xenikos. What is strange, however, is captured neither by the fear of the presence of an original corruption, a non-Greek at the presumed origin of Greek philosophy, which would threaten its privilege; nor by the presence of an êthos in general that allows for hospitality towards the xenos, understood as both guest and host. Rather, that which is most strange about the xenos and its êthos is that which never simply presents itself—and that is what Heraclitus “implies” in saying: êthos anthrôpô daimôn. Thus, the origin of the origin of the hatred of the xenos is the strangeness of implication (which is the strangeness of being, and of our being, and of the being of the xenos and its êthos), which has implications for how we think about the stranger, and how we act towards the implied strangeness of the stranger.