Jules Verne, in From the Earth to the Moon, said that cunning mathematical espiègleries like the kind astronomers use to calculate stellar distance based on parallax tend to strike the man in the street (think of Leopold Bloom) with amazement. (Le mot parallaxe semblait les étonner1placeholder). Verne was something of a Leopold Bloom himself, agog at technological marvels. He lavished more care on his sci-fi contraptions than on his characters, who are little more than hastily-assembled clockwork toys whose movements are keyed to the movements of the machines they operate. James Joyce had a lot of fun with this in Ulysses. “Huuh! Hark! Huuh! Parallax stalks behind and goads them, the lancinating lightnings of whose brow are scorpions.”2placeholder Like Michelangelo’s horned Moses — stern embodiment of the lex talionis3placeholder or law of retaliation, his skull deformed with wonder after his encounter with God — Parallax goads a lethargic people through a holyland laid waste by scientific rationalism. Agendath is home to screechowls and the sandblind upupa. Netaim, the golden, is no more.4placeholder “Waste of time,” says Bloom in a moment of discouragement. “Gasballs spinning about, crossing each other. Same old dingdong.”5placeholder
Parallax is a byword for both astonishment and consternation in Ulysses. Lancinating lightnings of the brow later mutate into synaptic misfirings in the Nighttown6placeholder chapter of Ulysses where, in the midst of a brainstorm, Bloom’s terrifying dead grandfather Lipoti Virag, guardian of the Talmudic law, suddenly blurts out “Parallax!” with a nervous twitch of his head. “Did you hear my brain go snap? Polysyllabax!” Virag is basilicogrammate,7placeholder royal stenographer at the Egyptian tribunal of the dead and “lord of language” — parody of a distinguished writer, pedant and bibliophile. On the highway of the clouds they come, muttering thunder of rebellion, the ghosts of zodiacal beasts,8placeholder driven in ceaseless revolution around the earth by Parallax, god of astronomers, Egyptian mystics and Freemasons. Astronomers float on Bloom’s stream of consciousness during his daylong journey through Dublin: Sir Robert Ball,9placeholder for example, Irish Fellow of the Royal Society, vaguely associated in Bloom’s mind with the copper “time ball” atop the port of Dublin Ballast Office, which falls on the hour “worked by an electric wire from Dunsink.” Note the effortless way Bloom’s unconscious mind plays with the “ball” in Ballast and the “sink” in Dunsink — or better yet, the way language ceaselessly plays with us, since the sinking timeball is not, in fact, “wired to Dunsink,” as a chance lexical association leads Bloom to believe.
Parallax 10placeholder is pure relationality. It assigns to cosmic bodies their relative positions in a fixed coordinate system. In “parallax” astronomy, as usual, stumbles upon interesting problems of relativism, then promptly sweeps them under the rug with its technical facility. Despite its lowly Popular Science origins in middle-brow literature, parallax in Ulysses stands for the relativity of language11placeholder — a.k.a. lambent nature in its rank profusion — and what is most astonishing, disconcerting and alluring about it is our inability to impose law and decorum upon it through any structural grammar or theory of relativity. Bloom, of course, associates this glamour and reserve (cf. Martin Heidegger’s Entzug, “withdrawal”12placeholder) of what constantly surrounds us and flees when we pursue it with women. Ball’s “fascinating little book,” The Story of the Heavens, sits on Bloom’s shelf at home alongside The Useful Ready Reckoner, Thoughts From Spinoza and the History of the Russo-Turkish War, Volumes I and II13placeholder. Then there is Professor Joly14placeholder of the nearby Dunsink Observatory, whose brain Bloom considers picking some Saturday afternoon on the subject of parallax and other astronomical quandaries. Astronomical images float through Bloom’s worry-laden mind as he sits in on a late-night, booze-fueled confab of Trinity medicals at the lying-in hospital in Holles Street, keeping vigil on poor Mrs. Purfoy, who is in her third day of labor. The equine portent looms15placeholder, vast, over the house of Virgo, a mare leading her fillyfoal, slim shapely haunches (Bloom appreciates handsome women and livestock) a supple tendonous neck, the meek apprehensive skull. It is she, Martha, thou lost one (Molly Bloom, disguised comic-opera style as Martha Clifford in the garb of a country servant16placeholder) and Bloom’s daughter, Millicent (silly Milly17placeholder) the young, the dear, the radiant. How serene does she now arise, a queen among the Pleiades, in the penultimate antelucan hour, shod in sandals of bright gold18placeholder, coifed with a veil of what do you call it gossamer!19placeholder It floats, it flows about her starborn flesh and loose it streams emerald, sapphire, mauve and heliotrope, sustained on currents of cold interstellar wind, winding, coiling, simply swirling. Finally, the veil resolves itself before Bloom’s distracted gaze into the distinctive red triangle on a bottle of Bass’s ale: It blazes, Alpha, a ruby and triangled sign upon the forehead of Taurus.
After this episode from “Oxen of the Sun” (chapter 14)—where the language is high-flown and tipsy, poached in the brain fumes of inebriated medical students20placeholder — let us pause for a moment to let the book relax and catch its breath. One wave of impressions subsides, leaving past impressions exposed on the shore like flotsam and seashells: Milly stands with Bloom and her mother on the deck of the excursion steamer Erin’s King, somewhere in a remote location of the text (chapter 4, to be exact). That day round the Kish. Her pale blue scarf streams loose in the wind. All dimpled cheeks and curls. Your head it simply swirls. The book rolls and pitches under Bloom’s flood of memories.21placeholder A scratchy version of Blazes Boylan’s song “Seaside Girls” plays on an imaginary gramophone in the reader’s head. Your head it simply swurls. Charged particles in the atmosphere perform Ponchielli’s dance of the hours (chapter 4).22placeholder The first letters of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet23placeholder (mnemonic acronym of the color spectrum cum nickname of Bloom’s high-school science teacher, “Roygbiv” Vance24placeholder) write themselves across the sky of the book in characters of fire (chapter 13).25placeholder
It’s not quite accurate to say that Ulysses is a book about language. It “is” language — and not just a minute portion of it enclosed between the covers of one, albeit brimming, book. Rather it is “the thing itself” in its entirety, language in what Heidegger called the “second beginning” (anderer Anfang).26placeholder The “first beginning” (der erste Anfang)27placeholder was Heidegger’s name for the first stab of unadulterated wonder which inaugurated the 2,500-year history of western metaphysics as forgetfulness of Being in Heraclitus and Parmenides. You could say that the Greeks were too busy being overwhelmed with awe at the advent of Being to take much interest in the fact that they were being overwhelmed with awe. What we call history followed from that understandable lack of attention. The history of western metaphysics is a history of withdrawal. “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” says Stephen Dedalus in chapter 2 of Ulysses (“Nestor”). Heidegger thought that no beginning is so exhaustively original that that very same beginning (der selbe Anfang) can’t be begun all over again even more originally. 29placeholder Das Selbe (the same) — unlike das Gleiche (the identical) 30placeholder — ripples with possibility, being shot through with absence and polarity. Everything — even especially a beginning — partakes of Being only through proximity to itself, and thus admits of qualifications, gradations and second chances.31placeholder
Since language belongs to us only peripherally (in so far as we, in our nearness to language, belong to Being) an essential ambiguity adheres to the question, Who speaks language? In Ulysses, language is epiphany.32placeholder God is “a shout in the street”.33placeholder By the end of Ulysses, we ourselves — drawn into the book as language and enrolled in its list of characters — hear ourselves shouted as voices in its streets.
Stephen Hero, James Joyce, 1959, A New Directions Book, New York.
Ulysses, James Joyce, 1986, Vintage Books, New York.
Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 13) 2002, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 65) 1995, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Bremer und Freiburger Vorträge, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 79) 2005, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Der Satz vom Grund, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 10) 1997, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Einführung in die Metaphysik, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 40) 1983, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dichtung, Martin Heidegger, 1996, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Hölderlins Hymnen “Germanien” und “Der Rhein,” Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 39) 1999, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Holzwege, Martin Heidegger, 1994, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Identität und Differenz, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 11) 2006, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Metaphysische Anfangesgrunde der Logik, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 26) 1978, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Phänomenologishe Interpretation von Kants Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 25) 1987, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Über den Anfang, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 70) 2005, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Unterwegs zur Sprache, Martin Heidegger, 1959, Verlag Günther Neske, Pfullingen.
Vorträge und Aufsätze, Martin Heidegger, 1954, Verlag Günther Neske, Pfullingen.
Was Heißt Denken? Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 8) 2002, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Wegmarken, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 9) 2004, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Zollikoner Seminare, Martin Heidegger, 2006, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Zur Sache des Denkens, Martin Heidegger (Gesamtausgabe Band 14) 2007, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Éloge de la philosophie et autres essais, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gallimard, Paris, 1953.
La structure du comportment, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gallimard, Paris, 1942.
Le visible et l’ Invisible, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gallimard, Paris, 1964.
L’oeil et l’ esprit, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gallimard, Paris, 1964.
Phénoménologie de la perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gallimard, Paris, 1945.
Signes, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gallimard, Paris, 1960.
Samtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, 3 Auflage, Friedrich Nietzsche, De Gruyter, Berlin, 2009.
De la terre à la lune, chap. VI (“Ce qu’il n’est pas possible d’ignorer et ce qu’il n’est plus permis de croire dans les États Unis”) 1875, unpaginated.
“Oxen of the Sun,” chapter 14.
Chapter 7, “Aeolus:” “He [Seymour Bushe, defense counsel in the Child’s murder case] spoke on the law of evidence, J. J. O’Molloy said, of Roman justice as contrasted with the earlier Mosaic code, the lex talionis. And he cited the Moses of Michelangelo in the Vatican.”
A remembered scrap of paper rescued by Bloom from a pile of newsprint used by Dlugacz the pork butcher (is Dlugacz a Jew, Bloom wonders?) to wrap sausages in (chapter 4) blossoms now in Bloom’s mind and envelopes him with the fragrance of lost fruit, a vanished cloud of orientalist incense. Agendath Netaim is the name of a “model farm” in the Levant, ancestor to an Israeli kibbutz. “He took a page up from the pile of cut sheets: the model farm at Kinnereth on the lakeshore of Tiberias. Can become ideal winter sanatorium. Moses Montefiore. I thought he was….He walked back along Dorset street, reading gravely. Agendath Netaim: planters’ company. To purchase waste sandy tracts from Turkish government and plant with eucalyptus trees. Excellent for shade, fuel and construction. Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa. You pay eighty marks and they plant a dunam of land for you with olives, oranges, almonds or citrons. Olives cheaper: oranges need artificial irrigation. Every year you get a sending of the crop. Your name entered for life as owner in the book of the union. Can pay ten down and the balance in yearly instalments. Bleibtreustrasse 34, Berlin, W. 15.” Chapter 5, “Calypso.” Bloom bathes momentarily in the warmth of the Near East, the feel of “cool waxen fruit,” the smell of “heavy, sweet, wild perfume.”
Chapter 8, “Lestrygonians.” Compare Bloom’s mood here with the momentary spell of gloom which settles on him in chapter 4, immediately following the experience of warm plenitude described above in note 4: “A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly. Grey. Far….No, not like that” (i.e. not like Bloom’s romantic Orientalist vision). “A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind could lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old….Desolation. Grey horror seared his flesh. Folding the page into his pocket” (he pockets the Agendath Netaim advertisement) “he turned into Eccles street, hurrying homeward. Cold oils slid along his veins, chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. Well, I am here now. Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin again those Sandow’s exercises. On the hands down.” Cf. the fundamental attunements of the Second Beginning cited below (Erschrecken, Scheu) in note 28.
“Circe,” chapter 15.
Basilicogrammates, kings’ secretaries, were important regional administrators in ancient Egypt. A mural in one basilicogrammate’s tomb depicts him in the forecourt of Osiris before the tribunal of the dead (Guide for Travellers in Egypt and Adjacent Countries Subject to the Pasha, Moritz Busch, Trübner & Co., London, 1858, pg. 114). See also Notice de quelques antiquités relatives au basilicogrammate Thouth ou Teti, Théodule Devèria, 1857. Here a basilicogrammate named Thoth (Thouth) is memorialized on a ceremonial patera in the Louvre. Thoth was named (no doubt honorarily) after the Egyptian god of writing, magic, wisdom and the moon. “Thoth was often represented in the form of a man’s body with the head of the Ibis and was the patron of the educated scribes [i.e. basilicogrammates] who were responsible for the administration of Egypt”. Compare “Eumenides,” chapter 15: “Virag, basilicogrammate, chutes rapidly down through the [bordello] chimneyflue and struts two steps to the left on gawky pink stilts.” “Pink stilts”=ibis legs. Compare Stephen, “Scylla and Charybdis’,” chapter 9, set in the National Library: “Cofﬁned thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice of words. Thoth, god of libraries, birdgod, moonycrowned” (Thoth is an Egyptian lunar god) “….And I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest” (more golden oratory here from Seymour Bushe, see note 3) “….In painted chambers loaded with tilebooks” (Stephen drops in a passage here from fin-de-siècle esthete Richard Jefferies’s The Story of My Heart: My Autobiography).
Besides wearing a basilicogrammate’s Egyptian pschent and two ink quills behind his ears, Virag sports the imperious “basilisk” (from βασιλίσκος, little king) monocle of Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell, a real-life Dublin eccentric who pops up in “Lestrygonians,” “Scylla & Charybdis,” “Wandering Rocks,” “Sirens” and “Circe.” (See The Joyce Project, People In the Novel) Virag/Farrell’s gentleman’s vampire cape is transformed into moth wings as he butts himself helplessly against a lampshade in the bordello where Bloom keeps watch over Stephen, after a nightmarishly swift transformation which ends with Virag disappearing from the novel altogether.
“Oxen of the Sun” again.
Chapter 8, “Lestrygonians.”
Parallax — from the Greek παραλλάσσω, to alternate, deviate, vary — is point-of-reference relative to point-of-view. Parallax is astonishing enough even in its purely astronomical meaning, since it seems to conjure a fixed frame of reference out of thin air. Cf. Einstein’s theory of relativity. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty said (Signes, “Einstein et la Crise de la Raison,” Les Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 1960, pgs. 190–195) Einstein’s theory is a testament to the misplaced confidence of physicists. In his 1957 Freiburg University lecture, “The Essence of Language” (Unterwegs zur Sprache, pg. 176) Heidegger captured the relativity of language (language as Verhältnis, relation; see note 11) in a neat formula. Das Wesen der Sprache (ist) die Sprache des Wesens: “The essence of language (is) the language of essence” — i.e., language “is” Being in a vanishing nearness, Nähe. (Language is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.) It is the enigma of this nearness which “withdraws,” resists approach, with a speed relative to that of the pursuer. Cf. Heidegger’s Flucht der Götter, flight of the gods, Beiträge, pg. 405: wir rücken in den Zeit-Raum der Entscheidung über die Flucht und Ankunft der Götter, “we are moved into a nexus of place and time where we must decide on the approach and retreat of the gods.” Paradoxically, this withdrawal urges on the pursuer from behind, like a goad. At the limit of withdrawal the god becomes a goad, Stachel: biological urge or stimulus, clockwork revolution of the heavens.
Verhältnis (the ordinary German word for “relation”) in Heidegger connotes “comportment toward…,” sich verhalten zu….. (Cf. Gerichtetsein, phenomenological comportment as intentionality.) An essential component of Verhältnis is Verhaltenheit, reserve, restraint. In “the relation between word and thing…the word itself is the relation (Verhältnis) in so far as it fixes each thing in Being and secures it there.” (In [dem] Verhältnis von Wort und Ding…das Wort selbst das Verhältnis ist, insofern es jeglich Ding ins Sein hält und darin behält, Unterwegs zur Sprache, ibid.)
Entzug, withdrawal: Sein entzieht sich, Being withdraws. “If we are drawn into the pull of this withdrawal” (sind wir auf das Sichentziehende bezogen) then we are all at once in Being, that is, in what withdraws (dann sind wir auf dem Zug in das Sichentziehende). “We are in the mysterious and therefore variable nearness of its claim upon us” (in die rätselvolle und darum wandelbare Nähe seines Anspruchs). (Anspruch=spoken address.) “When a man is expressly poised within this tug then, and only then, can he be said to be thinking” (Wenn ein Mensch eigens auf diesem Zug ist, dann denkt er). Only then is he “in the tugging draw (Zugwind, tug wind) of this pull” (in den Zugwind dieses Zuges). Was Heißt Denken? pages 19–20. (Was heißt Denken?=What is thinking, what is thinking called, what calls forth thinking? Being, of course, as Anspruch.) Being is permeated by a Zug, a tug or inner deviation, a dispersing, drawing and regathering as pervasive as the northeast wind (der Nordost: cf. Heidegger’s lecture on Hölderlin’s hymn “Andenken” in Erläuterungen, pgs. 79–151). Thought merely folds itself into the topographical contours of this withdrawing-enlivening, where pathways cross, deviate and vanish as suddenly as they appear.
Chapter 17, “Ithaca.” See “Leopold Bloom’s Bookshelves”.
Chapter 8, “Lestrygonians.”
Here we circle back and pick up “Oxen of the Sun” for the last time, following the digression after “Huah! Hark! Huah! Parallax stalks behind and goads them….”
In the “Sirens” episode (chapter 11) set at the Ormond Hotel, Stephen’s father Simon sings the tenor aria “m’appari” (Martha, thou lost one) from Friedrich von Flotow’s light opera Martha. Seated at a table in the hotel restaurant Bloom (a.k.a. Henry Flowers, esq.) rereads his letter from the mysterious Martha Clifford and mulls over his impending cuckolding at the hands of the dashing, low-rent Blazes Boylan, variety theater impresario.
Compare this image with the “slim-sandaled” morning sunshine in chapter 4, which brightens Bloom’s heart following a temporary spell of gloom that settles on him due to a passing cloud (see note 5): “Grey horror seared his flesh.” The holy land (his ancestral home) appeared before his eyes in the form of an old woman exhausted by child-bearing, “the grey sunken cunt of the world.” She crosses the street in front of him. “A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s, clutching a naggin bottle by the neck,” refugee of a wandering race. But suddenly “Quick warm sunlight came running from Berkeley road, in slim sandals, along the brightening footpath. Runs, she runs to meet me, a girl with gold hair on the wind.” Note the brief appearance of the famous 17th-century phenomenalist philosopher from nearby Trinity College in the eponymous Berkeley road. The sky, as always in Ulysses, is alive with portent. Note how verbs change tense depending on who “speaks”: present tense for Bloom, past-historical for the book. The book observes all action from a heightened, futural perspective.
“….what do you call it gossamer!” Compare: “So many millions of tiny grains blown across” (i.e. scent molecules; Bloom is savoring a lingering trace of the departed Gertie MacDowell’s perfume on the beach at Sandymount Strand in chapter 13, “Nausicaa,” after pleasuring himself from a distance with her eager consent: “Heliotrope? No, hyacinth? Hm. Roses, I think”). “Tell you what it is. [Scent is] like a ﬁne ﬁne veil or web they [women] have all over the skin, ﬁne like what do you call it gossamer and they’re always spinning it out of them, ﬁne as anything, rainbow colours without knowing it. Clings to everything she [Bloom’s wife Molly] takes off. Vamp of her stockings. Warm shoe. Stays. Drawers: little kick, taking them off. Byby till next time. Also the cat‚ likes to sniff in her shift on the bed.” My italics. Odors bleed into colors bleed into imagery of women in Bloom’s gregariously synesthetic mind.
Bloom, by contrast, from whose “stream of consciousness” the “parallax” reference is fished, remains sober throughout the whole “Oxen of the Sun” episode. Language hijacks consciousness.
“Damned old tub pitching about” (the Erin King) chapter 4.
The “dance of the hours” from Amilcare Ponchielli’s opera La Gioconda (1876) was a popular stand-alone work. “Morning after the bazaar dance when May’s band played Ponchielli’s dance of the hours,” remembers Bloom in chapter 4. “Morning hours, noon, then evening coming on, then night hours….Evening hours, girls in grey gauze. Night hours then: black with daggers and eyemasks. Poetical idea: pink, then golden, then grey, then black.”
“Night sky, moon, violet, colour of Molly’s new garters,” chapter 4, “Calypso,” Arabian Nights reverie.
Chapter 13, “Nausicaa.”
Mirus bazaar fireworks in “Nausicaa,” chapter 13.
§56. Seyn als der andere Anfang, Über den Anfang, pg. 67.
§69. Der erste Anfang und der Untergang, ibid, pgs. 85–86.
According to Heidegger, Nietzsche successfully effected the consummation of this withdrawal in his indispensable metaphysics of eternal recurrence (ewiger Widerkehr des Gleichen). The withdrawal of Being is synonymous with western metaphysics as the history of the forgetfulness of Being (subjective genitive: Being as grammatical subject deploys forgetfulness around itself like a dark cloud). Withdrawal unfolds metaphysically as the history of the death and resurrection of God.
In the remainder of this lengthy note I will attempt to sketch out Heidegger’s projection of a possible Turning (Kehre) and self-centering of Being from its periphery back into itself as what Heidegger called Ereignis or the “second beginning,” within the space cleared by its own withdrawal — not without the essential sacrifice of mortals. Withdrawal manifests itself as nihilism. Hence the crucial importance of Nietzsche. Pay careful attention to the way Heidegger emphasizes the secret connection between Nietzsche as thinker of motion or Being as eternal recurrence and Aristotle as thinker of motion as φύσις, self-concealing emergence or flowering. Both have an essential connection with Kehre, or “reversal.” (Contrast the motion of Being as Aufhebung in Hegel.)
— The Death of God
On Heidegger’s reading, the history of the death of God gives a semblance of concrete meaning to the metaphysical idea of “necessity.” Beyond its empty model-theoretical meaning in logic, “necessity” always carries connotations of unwilling compulsion. The scarcely admissible thought of God’s death seems to compel the will from behind like a sharp goad (stimulus — Latin cattle prod) toward resignation or acceptance of something painful. God’s resurrection or birth seems to hold out the promise of something eagerly sought after. It gives a semblance of meaning to logic’s colorless idea of “possibility.” Both “modalities” of Being — necessity and possibility — are indistinguishable on a model-theoretical view. In accordance with the obscure meaning of the word “identity” in the history of Being, metaphysics treats necessity and possibility as functionally identical. All three words — necessity, possibility and identity — are enveloped in the same fog of obscurity (Geheimnis). God’s death is necessary, as is His resurrection. Possibility is necessity for God, Whose essence is existence (actus purus).
Metaphysics is “onto-theology,” in Heidegger’s parlance. By widening its scope of inquiry into beings until the “life cycle” of God comes into view, metaphysics insures that the necessity and possibility under its consideration are unconditioned or absolute, the “thing itself.” Being for metaphysics is a phenomenon of life cycles, i.e. the truth of a kind of movement, φύσις, “nature” as unconcealment, ἐντελέχεια. “Αἰων (world-cycle) is a child playing at drafts,” said Heraclitus.
In Nietzsche’s metaphysics, necessity and possibility are identical in so far as Being exists as ewiger Widerkehr des Gleichen—the eternally recurrent self-identification of Being as will to will (will to power). “Existence” as eternal recurrence corresponds to “essence” as will to power.
To the framework or ground-plan on which he attempted to project and explicate these relations, Heidegger gave the name Ereignis: the so-called “event” of Being. For the etymology and construction of this word in Heidegger’s thinking, see below. Heidegger projected the history of Being (Seinsgeschichte) in the intelligible space cleared by Ereignis, and the history of Being in turn forms the “content” of the word — in accordance with a well-known hermeneutic circularity which follows from the historical nature of Being.
Being sich ereignet (“happens”) as a gathering of past and future. Every metaphysics is gathered in a similar fashion in three moments of time. Metaphysics is what Heidegger called the “truth of beings” (contrast Ereignis, the truth of Being). As self-awareness of the truth of beings, each metaphysics is centered in the present. Behind it lie the tribulations it had to overcome to reach this self-awareness. Ahead lie its possibilities of future self-realization. Nietzsche’s metaphysics fits neatly into this schema.
— The Death of God and Perceptual Disillusion
Every metaphysics recounts a version of the same story: Being, as the truth of beings, is progressively emptied of meaning until, as God, it declines and dies from its own debasement, only to undergo a resurrection in which it leaves its corruption behind in the tomb and becomes — for the first time and forever— what it always was. (Compare Nietzsche’s “last man”: “God is dead….[a]nd we [the last men] have killed him,” The Gay Science, 125.) Being is the “motion” of becoming (cf. the Greek word φύσις — “nature” — and Aristotle’s extensive analyses of the kinds of motion which constitute it.)
(The mythic Bloom undergoes more than one lightning-swift auto-da-fé and subsequent resurrection in the course of Ulysses, in those episodes where the book begins to levitate above the “now” and daydream about the action of the novel, inventing whimsical incidents and events. This is no accident. Death and resurrection drive the “commodious vicus of recirculation” at the heart of narrative fiction. At the end of each of these brutally short fairy-tale martyrdoms Bloom’s troubled thoughts emerge cleansed. As the book dreams, its motive springs and organic inner processes float to the surface, take bodily shape and temporarily shanghai the narrative.)
Compare the decline and death of God to the experience of perceptual disillusion which immediately precedes and makes way — clears room for — every genuine perception. One such perception (of a shipwreck on a beach) is described vividly by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenologie de la perception, Gallimard, 1945, pages 45–46. “Every present as it arises is driven into time like a wedge and stakes its claim to eternity,” he says much later — in its divine capacity, as it were, exercising its sovereign power. Death and resurrection vindicates and exalts an originary grasp of the world and anoints it with authority. Ibid, page 465 (trans. Colin Smith, London, 1981, page 393 — still the best English translation of Merleau-Ponty’s central work).
Somewhere in the same work Merleau-Ponty says that a whole book is grasped in its opening sentence. Subsequent sentences merely confirm and specify what the first already contains, albeit in a form as yet unpurified from falsehood by disillusionment and the death of preconceptions — i.e., martyrdom and trial by fire. Every genuine perception destroys and rebuilds the world from its foundation.
Husserl used the word “explode” (explodieren) to describe this characteristic disillusionment and subsequent reconstitution of the perceived world. A velvet explosion—the whole rebuilding process takes place almost instantaneously, in silence and obscurity. Φύσις — Being as unconcealment — loves to hide (Heraclitus, DK B123).
Emergence and submergence are the “same” in this primordial species of movement. Φύσις as self-envelopment moves “within itself.” The motion of becoming is dual and complementary, an inner self-diremption symbolized by the circle. Geometry and arithmetic, intermediaries for thought and sense perception, are coevals both for sense perception and for a philosophy of mathematics adequate to today’s physics.
— All Things Must Pay Penalty and Be Judged for Their Injustice
“Time ordains that all things must pay penalty and be judged for their injustice, passing away into their origin” (zu Grunde gehend): so runs the famous Anaximander fragment, DK 12B1 (early sixth-century BCE, the earliest extant fragment of “philosophy”) in a translation by Nietzsche. Only the god — the personification of Λόγος — passes through Heraclitus’s world-fire unscathed. (For Heidegger’s commentary on Nietzsche’s Anaximander translation and his own revision and interpretation, see “Der Spruch des Anaximander,” Holzwege, pages 321–373.)
The foremost solver of riddles, Sophocles’ Oedipus (from Greek οἶδα, to know, past perfect of “to see”) — who according to Hölderlin had “perhaps one eye too many” — eventually in Oedipus at Colonus saw his downfall (Untergang) as something other than unwilling compulsion, i.e. necessity. Downfall (zu Grunde gehen in Nietzsche’s translation) is our self-destined rendezvous with the fountainhead from which the living draw all their power and strength.
In Being and Time Heidegger called this fountainhead our “ownmost possibility” (eigenste Möglichkeit) by which he meant death. It is the source of our Eigentlichkeit, authentic selfhood. For Hölderlin, in an epigram written about Oedipus at Colonus titled Sophokles, this fountainhead is the source of all joy:
Viele versuchten umsonst
das Freudigste freudig zu sagen,
Hier spricht endlich es mir,
hier in der Trauer sich aus.
(“Many have sought in vain to find fitting words for the source of all joy. Here, in grief, I find it fully expressed.”)
— Oedipus’s Last Riddle
Poised unblinking before the abyss Oedipus, without conscious knowledge of his deed, solves one last two-part riddle, even more taxing than the Sphinx’s: Why is it best for a man never to be born? Why is it second best for him to die soon? (Nietzsche discussed the significance for the Greeks of this two-part sentiment, uttered by the chorus in Oedipus At Colonus as a general truth, in chapter three of the Birth of Tragedy, under the designation of the wisdom of Silenus.)
Oedipus’s implicit answer to this riddle, expressed in his mortal transfiguration in the final act of Oedipus At Colonus, was twofold: only one being, nature itself, φύσις—i.e. “birth” (φύω) and its personification, God — is “never born.” It would be best if one were a god, but it is the pain of this knowledge of our mortality which turns non-being into a dwelling place for mortals (see below). It is second best to die soon, because only the happy man dies “soon.” To the unhappy man death always comes too late.
Human life in Plato’s dialogue Parmenides is a μή ὂν, a non-being. (Human beings are ek-sistent, aus-stehend, they “reach sooner into the abyss,” says Hölderlin.) “To die” in Sophocles’ text (“to die soon is second best”) reads in Greek: τό βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥκει, to go back from whence one came, across the threshold of non-being to full Being, the immortal haunt of the gods, the sole beings who enjoy unqualified happiness, or to whom the epithet “unqualified” even applies. Qualification is μετέχειν, the participation of non-beings in Being.
— The Consolation Of Oedipus
Oedipus’s consolation: joy and grief are the “same” at the zenith of human comprehension. Extreme emotion shows that human beings always participate in both joy and grief “at the vanishing point” in so far as they joy or grieve at all.
At their extreme limits, grief and joy mingle and fuse their identities, exchanging their essences in a fluid “interplay” peculiar to Ereignis. (Trauer und Freude spielen ineinander, Heidegger, “Das Wort,” Unterwegs zur Sprache, page 235.) This intimacy of opposites is the chief characteristic of what Hegel called “speculative philosophy” — philosophy of the speculum, mirror. Compare William Blake: “Excess of sorrow laughs, excess of joy weeps.” The interplay of joy and grief is pain, Schmerz, ibid (excitement, mutual incitement).
The pain of heightened presence lets “what is remote be near and what is near remote,” i.e., is responsible for the constitution of a field of simultaneity and openness wherein mortals are granted stability and groundedness (Schwergewicht, “gravity,” poise, ibid, counterpart of a Schwergemut, melancholy). What passes under the name of “identity” is not the inert logical substance it pretends to be in traditional philosophy or even finally in Hegel, but is living stone, a monument to the pain and sacrifice which endures the assignment of each thing to its place.
Compare below, this note, Georg Trakl’s poem “Brot und Wein”: Schmerz versteinerte die Schwelle, “pain turned the threshold to stone.” For human beings, “to be” is to be-at-the-threshold of Being — the pure, the inviolate — without ever crossing it. The threshold of Being is the threshold of ecstatic ruin, solidified pain as duration or Verweilen. It is visible as horizon.
The pain of the loss of Being transmutes the promiscuous interplay of opposites into delimitation and boundary. Being is the source of all definitions and boundary markers (Greek ὅροι — cf. ὁρίζω, ὁρίζων, horizon) and is the essence of language. Custom, law, νόμος, follows language and molds itself to the topology of presence.
— Landscape Space
The etymological kinship, if any, between the aspirated Greek ὅρος — definition, boundary marker, frontier region (compare English “marches”) — and the unaspirated ὀρός, mountain, is shrouded in the mists of language history. For Heidegger, at any rate — acutely sensitive to the perspectival implications of his work—the mountain landscape (Gebirge ) that surrounded his Black Forest retreat stood for the horizon which shelters and conceals, withholds and grants itself to mortals from the periphery of Being.
Earth, sky and horizon interlock to form what Merleau-Ponty called “landscape” space. Landscape space (l’espace de paysage) subtends geographical space (l’espace géographique) as its heart’s blood. It throbs beneath geographical space, sustaining its brusque inevitability. Schizophrenics experience a collapse of landscape space wherein space begins to disintegrate altogether. “It is as if a second sky, black and boundless, were penetrating the blue sky of evening,” says one patient. “Boundless” (sans limite)=horizonless. See Phénoménologie de la Perception (1945) Paris: Gallimard, page 349.
— Horror Vacui
Oedipus Tyrannus is a play about the horror of indiscriminacy. Compare the will’s horror vacui in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, III,1 (“The will…will sooner will nothingness than not will”). In Sophocles’ play, distinctions between father/son, wife/mother, daughter/sister, etc. crumble and dissolve, and are drawn down by murder and incest into a sightless abyss devoid of Being. Oedipus is a Nietzschean hero who, empowered by his blindness, stares into the abyss with kindred eyes. (His daughter Antigone is another tragic hero in the Nietzschean mold, empowered by the blindness of her outraged piety to embrace her underworld self, her brother Polynices, in the tomb.) Contrast the last man, who “blinks” (blinzelt).
The tragic hero — “around whom everything becomes tragedy,” Jenseits von Gut und Böse, 150 — is an Übermensch, one who sees across (über) an abyss. Note the position of the hero in an ascending scale of interdependencies — mortal, hero, demigod, god (“around whom everything becomes world,” ibid). The tragic hero “plays” at world. Nietzsche’s “last man” (the blinkered everyman) is the tragic hero’s necessary dramatic antagonist, his counterpoint and foil. “Necessity” in this particular context implies tragedy:
Die Erfahrung des Seienden in seinem Sein, die hier zur Sprache kommt, ist nicht pessimistisch und nicht nihilistisch; sie ist auch nicht optimistisch. Sie bleibt tragisch.
(“The experience of the Being of beings which here [in the Anaximander fragment] comes to language is neither pessimistic nor nihilistic; nor is it optimistic. It remains tragic,” Heidegger, “Der Spruch des Anaximander,” Holzwege, page 357.) The preserved essence of tragedy remains hidden but alive in the works of Sophocles et al.
Having overcome at the hour of his death his own horror vacui, eyeless Oedipus sees by looking calmly into the abyss that his prior attempt to circumvent the oracles by force of will—(presuming in his intellectual pride to understand what they riddled)— inadvertently abolished the distinction of all distinctions, the unwillable one between Being and beings (das Sein and das Seiende—i.e., Heidegger’s [ontologische] Differenz). Thus Oedipus himself willed the crime he abhorred. Compare Oedipus’ funeral calmness to what Heidegger called Gelassenheit, composure, “Zur Erörterung der Gelassenheit. Aus einem Feldweggespräch über das Denken,” Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens, pages 37–74.
No matter how many moves you think ahead, you are always one crucial step behind the game. Do you think your tinpot armor of anxious moral scruples impresses the gods? Oedipus discovered in his final moments the joyous secret of his eigenstes Schuldigsein, his “ownmost being-guilty” (Sein und Zeit, page 288) the core of his innermost self. Joy weeps, sorrow laughs. Sorrow is the source of all laughter. It is critical for the development of a sense of humor which, as a virtual synonym for disclosive comportment (Dasein) itself, is rooted in the senses.
— The Last Man “Blinks.” A Digression on Merleau-Ponty’s Flawed Problematic of the Body.
Nietzsche’s last man, like the empty chough Osric in Hamlet, is “spacious in the possession of dirt.” Despite the possession of prosthetically-enhanced and augmented sense organs, self-satisfaction preternaturally dulls the last man’s senses and weakens his vision. “We are led to believe a lie when we see with, not through, the eye,” said William Blake. The body is not an “organism” made up of organs, Greek ὄργανα, like tools (Zeug) on a tool belt or gaudy ornaments on a chain. Bodily Dasein — das Leibliche — is co-extensive with the field of presence. Dasein leibt — “bodies forth.”
In his 1959–1969 Zollikon seminars, Heidegger discussed the problem of Leiblichkeit — “corporeality” — with colleague Dr. Medard Boss purely in the context of psychosomatic illness. He consistently ignored Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the body throughout his later writings as too poorly defined to shed light on the spatiality of Dasein. Even Merleau-Ponty’s later brilliant talk of the “flesh of the world” only achieves full resonance on the background of Heidegger’s deeper questioning. See Heidegger’s Zollikoner Seminare, pages 105–115.
Despite its many strengths, Merleau-Ponty’s early problematic of the body in Phénoménologie de la perception prematurely weakened his interrogation of the human life-world with an unexamined departure point.
Heidegger’s “preparatory fundamental analysis of Dasein” (Division One of Part One of Sein und Zeit — the only published part) and its following interpretation on the basis of temporality (Division Two of the published part) were both meant to serve only as a prelude for reformulating the question of Being in its entirety in a projected Part Two. Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein maintained a consistent focus on Being (not the human subject) in its drive toward a new reformulation of the question of Being. Dasein is not a subject, but a question leading to a question (the question of Being).
Beginning from a psychologist’s perspective in the psycho-social organism, Merleau-Ponty undercut its scientific validity by cross-checking it against a phenomenology of human behavior and perception which, in keeping with the notion of hermeneutic circularity, already contained an implicit interpretation of Being. His critique of scientific psychology proceeded in tandem with a parallel critique of neo-Kantian idealism in its French incarnation, aimed at the Cartesian subject.
Caught in the crossfire of this dual critique, what is most worthy of question (das Fragwürdigste) became more urgent in its questionability (Fragwürdigkeit). This is the goal of all thinking.
But Merleau-Ponty’s starting place in the psycho-social organism/Cartesian subject rather than in Heidegger’s tantalizingly obscure re-purposing of the stock German word for “existence,” Da-sein, shortchanged his own deep premonitions about Being and drove his analysis into a curious blind alley — darker and more fateful than the one Heidegger blundered tentatively into eighteen years earlier in the first half of Being and Time, in his clumsy discussion of spatiality. This shows up in the relation the human body (the “lived” body or corps propre) bears in Merleau-Ponty’s early work to all other forms of “body.”
(The genius of the word Da-sein, which countless commentators have failed to notice, is that it points away from itself in the direction of what it lacks in clarity: Sein, Being. You could say that “Dasein” by its very word-design poses the question of Being. See John C. Brady, https://epochemagazine.org/what-is-dasein-e11c4232771)
Believing he could discover the full “thickness” of Being in the human body itself, Merleau-Ponty made the “body-subject” serve as the ontological foundation for “body” in all its other senses. Body in all its non-human senses was constituted — not through a transcendental ego, it is true — but by a progressive “impoverishment” of the human body’s sedimented plans and purposes. Peeling back the layers of this onion far enough might reveal the non-human core of Being in any one of the human body’s objects — tools, material or nature. But this was only because the lived body, Merleau-Ponty thought, must be coextensive with Being.
The body-subject thus teetered dangerously close to becoming a new “subject” (subjectum, substratum) of metaphysics. From its inception, metaphysics as forgetfulness of Being has been driven inexorably toward subjectivism.
The German language has two words for “body”: Körper (Latin corpus, Greek σῶμα) and Leib (human body, what Merleau-Ponty called corps propre). Dasein leibt, bodies forth, i.e., escapes Being: its body (Leib) is never identical with its “body” (Körper). Vision comes to pass “through,” not “with,” the bodily eye.
Like the human body (Leib) the σῶμα (Körper) “escapes Being.” The body — that compact, rounded presence, be it a book, be it a key-holder, which constantly hovers before our eyes and fascinates our senses — is never merely identical with itself. The σῶμα is home to what Heidegger called the “ontological difference” (later just “difference”): the difference between Being and beings. Just as the human body “bodies forth” (leibt) so the perceived body, the thing, “things” (dingt, Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 46).
Greek σῶμα (Körper) is a “compactness,” “swelling”(from PIE root *teue-, “to swell”). A σῶμα incorporates or “swells” by seeing. It is “compact” with what it surveys. It has weight, or “moment.” As a stand-in for Being, it commands a field of view and as εἶδος (Aussehen, “look”) is the true subject, not object, of vision. Vision comes to pass when an object sees us. Lichtung (clearing) is a mirror-play of Sein and Dasein in which Sein is originary (see Zur Sache des Denkens, page 80).
Die Idee ist das Gesicht, wodurch jeweils etwas sein Aussehen zeigt, uns ansieht und so z.B. als Tisch erscheint.
“The idea is the face of something whereby it shows us its appearance. It thereby sees us and, for example, appears as a table.”
(“The idea” — εἶδος, from ἰδεῖν, to see — “is the face”—Gesicht, a ‘seeing/being-seen’ — “of something whereby it shows us its appearance”—Aussehen, ‘out-seeing’ — “and thereby sees us” — ansieht—“thus appearing, for example, as a table.”) Was Heißt Denken, page 226.
The body that stands before us excludes us. Absorbed by the thing’s gaze, we dissolve in fascination and come to nothing. (Beware countless facile scholarly treatments of the “male gaze” which get things backward, mired in Marxist dialectic.) The “subject” of vision enjoys its autonomy at the bequest of its “object,” as a freely incurred debt. (See below, “Gods and Animals.”)
The grammar of “to see,” like that of all other verbs and parts of speech (cf. nouns like Gesicht and Aussehen) limps behind language. Language shakes up grammar and upends the metaphysical categories based upon it, such as “active” and “passive” (see Aristotle).
Grammar sometimes forgets itself and lets in an oblique ray of sunlight. Thus in English we say that the ski run “overlooks” the lodge. The Hudson River Overlook winds between 14th Street and the Chelsea Market on the High Line Greenway.
Such expressions send grammarians scrambling toward the windows in a panic with duct tape and black construction paper. Nevertheless we all feel the burden of the world’s gaze in the form of a certain heaviness typically associated with the sky even on a clear day.
“Sons of the earth,” Söhne der Erde, like the Rhein and the Hudson, said Friedrick Hölderlin in his hymn “Der Rhein,” 1808, are alliebend (all-loving) wie die Mutter (like the mother). So empfangen sie auch mühlos, die Glücklichen, Alles:
“So they bear, the lucky ones, their burden of happiness without effort.” (Compare the broad back of the Hudson River shining in full sunlight. The sun is Hölderlin’s “Greek fire” — the original onset of Being.)
Mortal man, by contrast (der sterbliche Mann) “when he bethinks himself on his burden of happiness, and the sky he has heaved on his shoulders with loving arms”—
Wenn er den Himmel, den
Er mit den liebenden Armen
Sich auf die Schultern gehäuft,
Und die Last der Freude bedenket —
is “terrified” and “dismayed” (erschröckt and überrascht)
Denn schwer ist zu tragen
Das Unglück, aber schwerer das Glück,
“for happiness is a heavier burden to bear than unhappiness.”
Thanks to the object’s circumferential view (its “swelling”) and omnipresent gaze, the hidden sides of our surroundings are nevertheless present to us. The human perceiver has corporeality only in the orbit of the perceived object’s gaze. Yet at the same time the perceived/perceiving object is anchored to our gaze — the mirror image of its own—by a slender thread and draws life from our dependency and non-being, as if by some miracle it were suspended from a void.
It is this miracle which distinguishes the human body as Leib from all other bodies. Born from and visible for the most part only in a mirror, it sneaks half-hidden among the other objects in our midst in the guise of a purpose or a thought. It is precisely this shyness, this tendency to flee our gaze, which inflames the mind to investigate and pursue the human body under the mistaken description of “body proper,” the body in the true sense of the word.
An understanding of what Merleau-Ponty called corps propre (Leib) presupposes an understanding of σῶμα (Körper). Σῶμα thwarts every attempt to understand it in terms of mere presence-at hand (Vorhandenheit) as if it were the idealized constructed body of physics. Merleau-Ponty’s failure to make the body which fronts our gaze and touch the focus of his efforts cast his early problematic of the body in a decidedly subjectivist light.
Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein in Sein und Zeit was a preliminary effort to entirely reframe the question of Being. Throughout his analysis he deliberately postponed the question of corporeality in all its senses to a future date.
By foregrounding the “body-subject” in his analysis, Merleau-Ponty inadvertently provided a ready answer to the traditional question of Being as ὑποκείμενον (subjectum) and thus (temporarily at least) backed himself into a typically Sartrean cul-de-sac from which he fully extricated himself only following a fifteen-year silence.
Like the human body, the σῶμα in its “swelling” and command of a field-of-view is coextensive with the field of presence. Leib and Körper are the “same” in an as yet undisclosed sense of sameness. Merleau-Ponty’s conflation of Körperlichkeit with Vorhandenheit short-circuited inquiry into the question of this “sameness,” despite abundant evidence throughout the Phénoménologie that Merleau-Ponty recognized its importance.
The tritely true “I am my body” presents an illusory answer to the question of the self (Wer bin ich? Who am I?). Wer bin ich? is only an emphatic doubling down on the theme of the Seinsfrage (question of Being). In his last, unfinished work, Le visible et l’invisible, Merleau-Ponty renewed interrogation into la question centrale qui est nous-mêmes, “the central question that we ourselves are,” page 139—i.e., the question of Being.
“The question that we ourselves are” is asked in many ways. Sometimes the question interrupts life’s diligent rush and imposes a brief moment of stillness. Where am I? What time is it? asks the hurried banker in the street as he checks his pocket watch, his step suddenly slowed by an unforeseen strangeness in the question. Each iteration of the question seems to open upon an infinite series of further questions: where is space? What is near falls away, and he is chilled by a cold draft from the abyss. (Quoted from the poet Paul Claudel, ibid, page 138.)
Some manifestations of the question glimmer with “a sick man”’s panicked awareness (Wahrheit) of his fate: Why am I me? And am I really me, or just my traitorous double, my receding image in a mirror? (Quoted from the philosopher Alain, page 139.)
The mirror of Being is likewise the mirror of Eros, since it is where love and love’s betrayal originates and multiplies vertiginously into a rank perplexity of forms.
— Gods and Animals
Nietzsche’s last man (letzter Mensch) is the polar opposite of Heidegger’s last god (letzter Gott). The last man is the least god-like (furthest removed from Being) on a scale that culminates in the last god and includes even animals. God is a ζῷον, “animal” or living being — the most-living being.
Mortals are “less alive” than animals, who live protected within the totality of beings from which mortals have been wrenched or “thrown” (geworfen—compare a “thrown piston” or a joint thrown out of its socket.) Rilke called this totality of beings (das Seiende) from which mortals find themselves expelled “the Open” (das Offne) in direct antithesis to what Heidegger meant by the word (cf. Lichtung, Offenheit).
See “Wozu Dichter?” Holzwege, pages 269–320. What Rilke, following the outlines of a Nietzschean metaphysics, called the Open (the totality of beings) Heidegger pronounced closed (verschlossen). Mortals, unlike animals, are gewagt—ventured or “staked” (exposed)—within the clearing of Being (Lichtung, Offenheit) which they co-constitute. They “stand out” (aus-stehen) into the Nothing, are an “outstanding debt” (ausstehende Schuld) owed to Being.
The last man’s insensitivity to death poses the ultimate risk for mortal man: the risk of defaulting on a loan. (The last man gilt als schlechtes Risiko, “he is a bad credit risk.”) Mortal man owes a debt to Being — the debt of his own death, the “strange fruit” of his life, fathered by the Nothing in which he
“ek-sists.” In the absence of death life wastes away to nothing through insensibility.
Sensibility is a feel for gradients: it feeds on antagonism, conflict and tonal contrast. Sensibility is “being-there” itself, Dasein: being-present as being-absent, a departing-lingering, an open-eyed dying away (Sterben).
Mortals are the “cause” of (sie haben Schuld an) risk. They take on risk, i.e., incur a debt (Schuld) to Being. (Sie haben Schuld an einer Schuld.) They are guilty of (sie sind schuld an) and co-responsible for, answerable to (verantwortlich für) their own non-existence and openness of Being. Causality is answerability to Being: response, resonance — not Latin agere, to drive or “act.” Dasein, the reflection of a reflection, answers its own reflection in the mirror (Lichtung) of Being.
Compare the Greek αἴτιος, answerable. Aristotle’s four “causes,” αἰτίαι — matter, form, proximate and final mover — are together “answerable” for the thinging of the thing. (See “Das Ding,” Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 46.) They answer to its form and matter. The silver chalice resonates with ore hidden deep inside the mountain. The hand of the silversmith answers to the cup’s call to Being. Space empties for it under the yielding armature of the sky. Time as whole reverberates with its sudden emergence from unconcealment.
Renunciation of causality in the metaphysical sense is the tenor of Being and Time’s strange talk of Schuldigsein, translated inadequately as “being guilty.”
— The Square of Opposition
The last man is least god-like on a scale that culminates in the last god. Sein/Da-sein as field-of-presence is a phenomenon of scales defined by contraries, intersecting poles of the Fourfold (Heidegger’s Geviert). Compare Aristotle’s square of opposition, just one of many important Aristotelian fourfolds (compare the four causes) manifesting the same fourfold properties of Ereignis: presence, absence, mortality, immortality.
Presence is “always already” paired with immortality in so far as it is opposed to absence, which is paired with mortality, etc. The relation of immortality to presence is roughly the same as that in logic between intension and extension, or quality and quantity. Hegel once referred to Being as “self-referring [i.e. ‘internal’] externality,” which is another way of saying that all simple qualities — beginning with the “quality of Being” — are “always already” fractured into a progression of stages by the mirror of Sein/Dasein. See Hegel, The Science of Logic, 2010, Cambridge University Press, page 291.
Sein/Da-sein as field-of-presence is a phenomenon of scales. Everything vanishes in an optical mist of increments and degrees that a mere change of focus renders integral and whole, so that it is impossible to say whether the impassivity or the restlessness of things is real.
— The Two Axes of Being
Being is fourfold. It is plotted on two axes.
Already in his first book, The Structure of Behavior, Merleau-Ponty depicted a “chiasma,” or intersection, of vertical and horizontal axes defining cerebral function. A lesion in one part of the brain affects the mind’s relation with the exterior world differently depending on where it is located on the horizontal and vertical axes of a virtual map of brain function.
“Horizontal” represents the extensional or quantitative, “vertical” the intensional or qualitative dimension of the mind’s relation to the external world. “The physiological reality of the brain is not representable in exterior space” — that is, as we would say, in any computer-programming language. La structure du comportement, Gallimard, 1942, page 110. This has become a truism of the holistic or holographic view of brain functioning. Both cerebral axes are the “same.” Quantity is quality, according to Hegel, ibid.
The square, the configuration of Ereignis, results from Sein/Dasein’s successive doubling or “squaring” in the mirror (Lichtung) of Being. The settled, composed properties of the square make it less attractive to metaphysics (the forgetfulness of Being) than some version of Hegel’s restless dynamic triad, which unfolds subjectively from an autonomous, self-sufficient principle.
The Fourfold is finite (at rest) the triad infinite (in motion). Compare Aristotle’s infinite δύναμις — movement, κίνησις — versus finite ἐντελεχεία as its full reality or τέλος. The square is more communitarian, less autocratic than the triangle, whose singular apex looms over and commands its double base. The square base of the fourfold remains the fixed foundation of its successively towering and collapsing Babel-like apex. (Being remains unsaid despite its articulation in a Babel of European languages.)
Dasein occupies a position at the apex of a pyramid whose base is the square-cornered Fourfold of Being. The thing sits at the center of the base of the pyramid, at the intersection of the square’s two axes. The historical subject is projected overhead, at the apex of the pyramid: it is the thing’s mirror image, the historical answer to Dasein’s question “Who am I?” See above, “The Last Man Blinks: Merleau-Ponty’s Flawed Problematic of the Body.”
The thing is historical, i.e., it brings together a past and present with a future. As the thing “things,” the world “worlds”: historicizes a series of “world-subjects,” successive reflections of the thing. See Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 46.
All “readings” from the scale of the two axes alter over time. Even its topographical properties change. This is the predicament that Foucault confronted head-on in his persistent efforts to work out a fluid scholarly framework and language for studying the “history of the present.” But all his work remains in the shadow of Heidegger’s Seinsgeschichte.
Both thinkers understood that thinking is not commerce in abstractions — what Paul Valéry called the labels on bottles — but their live contents poured out as speech uttered by our former selves: our historical doubles, awakened by our questions from their historical sleep to tell us who we are.
We remain at the mercy of our history—even those of us who gloat over our superior historical sense but plow the hackneyed fields of “deconstruction.” Foucault dismissed deconstruction as an academic hustle.
The last man is the “least living” being purely through insensibility. The hero actively absorbs the last man’s passive blindness through his disgust in order to use it to reach further into the abyss, which is pregnant with Being. Nabokov said Humbert Humbert was a gargoyle expelled to the outside of his cathedral.
— Fountain or Mountain?
The horizon line which anchors landscape space is a fissure from which Being wells — and is also a mountain. Compare the poet John Shade in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. His passionately-sought proof of immortality — the “dreadfully distinct” image of a fountain playing against a dark background, glimpsed in the midst of a coronary seizure — fails to find independent confirmation in a second seer due to a faulty newspaper report, which misquotes its source (a blue-haired lady who saw a “mountain,” not a “fountain,” in the midst of her seizure). “Life everlasting — based on a misprint!”
Shade’s mistake is eminently mortal, as is his name. Compare Oedipus, the Lame (from οἰδί–πους, “swollen-foot,” as in the English “edema”). Both stumble at the threshold of Being.
John Shade calls himself a “cloutish freak,” a word chosen by Nabokov for its chance similarity to the Latin claudicare, to limp — cf. the lame emperor Claudius — and its French cognate, claudiquer. “Then as now, I walked at my own risk: whipped by the bough, tripped by the stump. Asthmatic, lame and fat, I never bounced a ball or swung a bat.”
Like Oedipus, John Shade (whose name means umbra, specter of the dead) “knows,” Greek οἶδε. Shade and Oedipus both prize the acuity of their vision (Greek ἰδεῖν, a close cousin of εἶδειν, to know). The name Oἰδίπους, “swollen foot,” bears only a chance similarity to οἶδε, “knows.” But chance (Τύχη, a Greek goddess) is practically a synonym for Being as Ereignis, the “event,” and therefore is cloaked in the same obscurity (Geheimnis).
The unhappy fate foretold with a god’s certainty to Oedipus turns on a series of unrelated chance events, accidental “misprints” in the ancient record of his life. In the deep obscurity (Geheimnis) of Being as life both granted and withheld — i.e. both sheltered and preserved — necessity disappears in the mist and becomes indistinguishable from chance.
— The Parable of the Gatekeeper
Being is immortality. We glimpse it, our natural birthright, our ancestral home, the seat of our ancient privilege, with bittersweet resignation as it recedes on the horizon. (For Dasein, which is a kind of movement, absence is a receding.) The brief turmoil and confusion of irretrievable loss evaporates as the features of the landscape harden into stone and we settle into a life of toil and dedication. Above, the realm of the gods. Below, the realm of the dead. In the distance, the horizon.
Compare Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” Intimation (Ahnung) is a key element in the grounding attunement of the second beginning:
Das Ahnen ist in sich das in sich selbst zurückgründende Aufbehalten der stimmenden Macht, das zogernde und doch uber alle Ungewißheit des bloßen Meinens schon hinausragende Bergen der Entbergung des Verborgenen als solchen, der Verweigerung.
(“Shyly, and yet beyond the uncertainty of all mere supposing, intimation holds open the power of feeling and harbors what feeling discloses: the refusal of Being, what is hidden as such,” Heidegger, Beiträge, page 22.)
The horizon is the source of our strength, the threshold which guards the entrance to our place of banishment. We dwell on the threshold of Being, not yet but always about to “be.” From time to time a mad hope seizes us: if only we made one last exhaustive, heroic effort we could transform our slippery hold on Being into Descartes’ fundamentum inconcussum. One moment of full life would render us deathless, as Nietzsche saw in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 3, “The Vision and the Riddle.” Augenblick, the Moment, stands in a stark wilderness, gateway to the circle of eternal recurrence.
Compare Kafka’s parable of the gatekeeper, “Before the Law.” “This gate was yours and yours alone. Now I am going to close it.” Being grants us life only by shutting us out. This disenfranchisement, which matures and ripens into the fruit of our death, is the clock by which our lives are measured.
The writer-protagonist of Nabokov’s novel Look at the Harlequins! fears that he will wake up and discover the truth: that he is merely a character in another novelist’s (Nabokov’s) book. For him the horizon is “a bottomless spot under the nenuphars, a swimmer’s panic in the night.” Being woken up in the middle of the night by a chink of light under a door or windowshade induces severe stress and fleeting paralysis in his keenly discriminating writer’s mind because, like the horizon, a stab of light in the dark represents truth for him, like the “flaming brand” (sword) at the end of Paradise Lost, barring entrance to Eden. Other evidence of his merely fictional status torments him intermittently throughout the novel.
— The Wager
The horizon is the aporia of all aporias, barred corridors. (Ἀπορία is from περάω, to pass through.) No mortal can overleap his horizon (as Milton’s Satan overleaped the “verdurous wall of Paradise”). “This gate [is] yours and yours alone,” says Kafka’s gatekeeper before he locks it shut and departs forever. The horizon is both our end and our beginning, τέλος, “final cause” made visible. Birth is a wager, German Wagnis, risk, venture. Under the distant sway of the horizon—the glare of our mysterious, poker-faced destiny—the unpacked plenitude of our lives is fanned out before our eyes on a green baize table in the form of aces, deuces and kings, the small change of our existence.
Compare Heidegger, Was Heißt Denken? page 132: Wir wagen uns…in das Spiel…auf das unser Wesen gesetzt ist, “We hazard ourselves in the game upon which our Being is staked.” Wagnis, wager, floats in a constellation of word meanings based on wegen, to be in motion or on the way (unterwegs): to weigh or choose, wiegen, scales, Waage, to hold in balance, to place at risk, in den Gang des Spieles bringen, wagen. See “Wozu Dichter? “Holzwege, pages 281ff.
Every movement is ventured across a space fraught with hazards — Lichtung, the space between Being and nothing, das Nichts. We call it simply “space,” accustomed to mistake the multitude of places which crowd out space for space itself. But it crouches in the lacunae between places, waiting. Every movement is like a fissure out of which space rushes, displacing constituted space in its entirety and reconfiguring it.
(In “Wozu Dichter?” Heidegger contrasts the poet Rilke’s Nietzschean metaphysics of the “Open,” das Offene — the space within beings as a whole wherein each being is ventured — with openness as Lichtung, the space between Being and das Nichts wherein Being itself is ventured.)
Compare the etymological connection between the Greek verb τλάω — both to venture and to undergo — and τάλαντον, balance beam, weighing scale. Zeus balances (πάλλω) lightning in his hand like a spear before hurling it with a swing of his arm. Force, or impetus, emerges from balance as swing — ῥιπή, ῥοπή, Latin momentum: both a swinging of the balance beam and a mass sufficient to cause it to swing — and returns to balance as rest.
Being=balance. Momentum (cf. mass-momentum in physics) is German Schwung, from the past participle of “to swing” (schwingen). Despite its essential non-Being, every motion (Schwingen) already “has swung” — i.e. has rest — in the “balance of things” (Being) and is therefore a being. The auxiliary verb “has” in the English past participle expresses Being as possession. Compare Hegel. Being and time correspond.
Human life is a wager. Beings (das Seiende im Ganzen) hang in the balance. They balance on a — the fulcrum is unsayable (unsagbar) for metaphysics as forgetfulness of Being, for all its loquacity. Life’s momentum — Greek ῥοπή, the turn of the scale — hangs on the balance point of a forgotten question.
— The Principle of Sufficient Reason
The question: Why does something (das Seiende) exist rather than nothing (vielmehr als nichts)? gives rise to Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason: “There is a reason why something exists rather than nothing” (ratio est cur aliquid potius existat quam nihil).
Leibniz’s question proceeds under the subtle influence of the words “rather than” (potius quam) which express the principle of balance. (Potius is from Latin posse, the power or potentiality of something.) The question holds two alternatives in balance while offering one for selection. The existence of both alternatives is affirmed by the question. Both alternatives — Being and non-Being — are already present in what answers the question, i.e., what trips the beam in favor of one of the two alternatives : the scale itself.
For Leibniz, the scale on which the two alternatives is weighed is ratio, reason or ground. Ratio was Leibniz’s name for Being (cf. Heidegger’s Der Satz vom Grund, pages 40ff). Ratio is the reason both for the existence of beings and for their non-existence (Nicht-seiendheit). Ratio holds the reins of both.
Under Nietzsche, Leibniz’s ratio became the will to will — “will to power” — as principle of valuation. See below. Being as will to will was already implicit in Leibniz’s presciently forward-looking conception of substance (monad) as both appetitus and perceptio.
The metaphysical potius quam balances the competing values of appetite vs. perception — “art” vs. “truth,” destruction vs. preservation — and privileges one over the other according to need, or “justification” (truth as Gerechtigkeit; see below). See Heidegger’s 1928 lecture course on Leibniz, Metaphysische Anfangesgrunde der Logik, pages 141ff. Contrast Schopenhauer’s tone-deaf reading of Leibniz in his celebrated dissertation on the principle of sufficient reason.
Another form of the question, in which Being itself hangs in its own balance, is Heidegger’s reformulation of Leibniz’s question: Why is there Being (Sein) and not rather nothing (das Nichts)? Mortals pose the question of Being and are in turn posed by it. See “Was ist Metaphysik” (1929) Wegmarken, pages 103–122.
Arrested and caught up in the question of Being, even the gods are ventured, or staked in the game. Contrast Pascal’s wager. Everything hangs in the balance at once, including the balance.
This is the holy mystery which, according to Heidegger, compels our reverence and throbs with noumenal intensity beneath the threshold of perception.
It is a story for thinkers and poets — explorers of the perceptual world — not prophets and mystagogues. The “ordinary man” in the street succumbs to it from time to time. But critical theory is deaf to it, thanks to a lazy eye and a tin ear for poetry.
Critical philosophy (19th- and 20th-century neo-Kantian school philosophy) was sustained by Enlightenment reason—what Heidegger called “the most stubborn adversary of thought.” But Enlightenment reason is now defunct, and modern critical theory rests only upon “oneself” (das Man). It is the latest in a long line of suspect social sciences.
There are moments when we are grateful to be seen by what we see (see above) and chosen by what we choose. Thinking makes way for them.
— “The Shadow of the Waxwing Slain”
“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/by the false azure in the windowpane,” says John Shade in Pale Fire. Being, the coveted object of western metaphysics, is “only” our own reflection on the inside of a mirror — a reflection that kills.
Landscape space is the “painted parchment papering our cage” — “for we are most artistically caged,” says John Shade in Pale Fire. An “opal cloudlet” (Shade calls it an “iridule”) reflects the turmoil of a thunderstorm “which in a distant valley has been staged.” Nabokov was an avid reader of Merleau-Ponty’s spiritual grandfather Henri Bergson, a graduate student in mathematics whose acute sensitivity to language — which wallpapers our “cage” — made him a superlative phenomenologist. See Merleau-Ponty’s testament to Bergson, “Bergson se faisant,” in Éloge de la philosophie et autres essais, Gallimard, Paris, 1953.
— The Name of the Bow is Life, but its Work is Death
Near the end of Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus departs from the world over the Bronze-footed (i.e. bronze-stepped) Threshold (χαλκόπους ὀδός) a staircase leading down into an earthen cavern. It is pointed out to the Theban Oedipus by a local at the beginning of the play (line 57). The play’s action takes place in a sacred grove at Colonus, about a mile northwest of the Acropolis at Athens, the god-appointed locale where blind Oedipus’s wanderings cease (i.e., where he once and for all ceases to be “lost”).
The Bronze-footed Threshold is “Athens’ ἔρεισμα” (support, stay, line 58) “rooted deep in the earth” (γῆθεν ἐρριζωμένον, line 1591) says the messenger who relates Oedipus’s disappearance. In Hesiod’s Theogony, a bronze threshold marks the entrance of Hades (line 811) “fixed in the earth by unfathomable roots.” In the same poem, a bronze threshold marks the boundary between Day and Night, ibid, 749–750.
Thresholds loom large in Hesiod’s deeply philosophic poem where, in the form of gods, the primordial constituents of Being first come to language in a divine genealogy — starting with Grandfather Chaos, which Aristotle later identified with place or “space,” χώρα, German Raum (room): “Hesiod says that Chaos was born first, since before anything can be room (χώρα) must be made for it,” Physics, 208b29. See my commentary on line 16 of Theogony, www.academia.edu/33405383.
Every way or path (ὁδός, aspirated) is a threshold (ὀδός, unaspirated) and vice versa — note the variation of “breathing marks” at the head of each word. All movement, βίος, “lifespan,” is movement toward a pre-specified limit or horizon, τέλος. Τέλος can mean goal, end, or death. In a famous fragment (64, DK B48) Heraclitus says “The name of the bow (βιός) is life (βίος) but its work is death” — notice the wayward accent mark on which the meaning of the two opposite ideas (“life” and “death”) here depends.
— Der Mensch Irrt
Language, through which all beings are secured in Being (cf. Unterwegs zur Sprache, pg. 176) provides ample opportunity for “misprints” involving (alleged) opposites like these. Human immortality is a rare but irrefutable presence in the life of mortals, apart from which even the gods’ immortality vanishes. Nevertheless, for us as for John Shade, “life-everlasting” is a mirage — a false report in a newspaper. In this it fails to differ in any significant way from the signposts and way stations that greet us daily on our dream-march toward our (self-) destined end (eigenste Möglichkeit).
Human life is motion (Sterben — βίος, movement toward death). John Shade’s “misprints” and copy errors (what Heidegger called die Irre) are creative missteps which make motion possible.
Der Mensch irrt. Der Mensch geht nicht erst in die Irre. Er geht nur immer in der Irre, weil er ek-sistent in-sistiert und so schon in der Irre steht.
“Mortals err. They do not merely stray into error. They are always astray in error. To stand ‘in’ Being means to stand outside Being and so to stand constantly in error,” Wegmarken, page 196.
Mortals are like knights-errant, astray in Being. Errancy is like a neutral chemical solution out of which a pair of polar opposites — truth and falsehood — coalesce like acid and base. Truth and falsehood are equal partners and coevals in Being as Ereignis, the event of unconcealment (ἁλήθεια).
— Word Games
Heidegger, like Heraclitus, reveled in the sheer contingency of language. Let the parade of lexigraphical doubles and impostors here displayed— the whole comedy of orthographic disguises presented in the three preceding sections—serve as a reproach to those who parrot the stale claim that Heidegger philosophized out of an etymological dictionary.
“….all at once it dawned on me that this
Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme;
Just this: not text but texture, not the dream
But topsy-turvical coincidence.”
— John Shade, Pale Fire
“Language games” refers to games played not with language, but by language in its playful moods.
“Texture” in the above passage from Nabokov is Gefüge, jointure: a web of circumstance (“….not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense….”) woven under the influence of der Fug, δίκη, “justice.” Der Fug can be understood, in a first approximation, as the “justification” of concealment and unconcealment in Ereignis, in the sense of the justification of page margins in typography. Merleau-Ponty spoke of the union of “figure and ground” and the play of visibility and invisibility (Le Visible et L’ Invisible, Gallimard, Paris, 1964) in the same context, cobbling words to describe the same magic.
Compare Nietzsche’s translation of “passing away” (zu Grunde gehend, going under, going to ground) in the Anaximander fragment: “All things must pay penalty and be judged for their injustice, passing away into their origin.” Untergang, destruction, is like the subduction of tectonic plates out of which the earth’s crust is knitted (“tectonic” is cognate with Latin texere, to weave). Everything bubbles up from fissures (in a process called tectonic divergence) and disappears through subduction into the same molten core.
— Creative Etymology (“Etymology of the Present”)
Consider just one Heideggerian example of two binary word stars which orbit around each other in the same thought-constellation: Dichten/Denken and Dickung/Lichtung. Dichten (poetizing, “thickening”) is to Denken (thinking, “thinning”) as a Dickung (an antique hunting term from dick, “thick”: a bushy thicket which offers cover for game) is to a Lichtung (a woodland clearing).
A Dickung is a dark concretion of presence at the center of a Lichtung, “lightening,” Heidegger’s word for Dasein as cleared space of disclosure (see Zur Sache des Denkens, page 80). Thinking (Denken) thanks (dankt) the Muses for dictating (the root sense of the German Dichten) matter for thought. Denken is Danken (Was Heißt Denken? pages 149 ff.; cf. Gedanken, Gedächtnis, Andenken). Poetry is the matter (Greek ὕλη, literally “wood”) of thinking. Thinking is synonymous with its thought-object, form. Form is the empty space wherein something plastic is shaped by a process akin to vacuum molding or intrusion.
A chance aural similarity in two etymologically unrelated words, Dichtung (poem) and Dickung (thicket) gives birth through the grammatical phenomenon of “attraction” to a real Siamese bond. Heidegger, with full awareness of his method, routinely tapped into the chief generative principle of language, spurious etymology. His grasp of the distinction between this “creative etymology” and das Sprachgeschichtliche (etymology proper) was crystal clear, and based on his profound understanding and respect for both language and scholarship.
The history of language is a history of foreshadowed bunders, chance rendezvous with destiny. A word doesn’t yet mean what it was “always meant” to mean until it meets its destined soulmate and imbibes its long-withheld essence. Being is centered in the present.
Merleau-Ponty says that there is “at the origin of every language a system of expression according to which it is not arbitrary to call light ‘light’ if one calls night ‘night.’” (There is “à l’origine de chaque langue un système d’expression…tel…qu’il ne soit pas arbitraire d’appeler lumière la lumière si l’on appelle nuit la nuit,” Phénoménologie de la perception, page 236.) Poets and thinkers tap language at its origin, from which all word-historical changes flow.
— Expectation and Surprise
Metaphysics makes a distinction between appearance and reality. A predetermined event occurs by “chance” if it is unforeseen by mortals. God’s divine foreknowledge acts as guarantor of predeterminate necessity. Or ignorance is objectified by metaphysics and installed as chance alongside necessity as a real element in the furniture of the universe. In either case, metaphysics overlooks the event-ual (ereignishafte) relation between all the components of the Fourfold (earth, sky, mortals and divinities) out of which Being is composed.
Everything — from prophetic certainties to “misprints” in the fair copy of Being — is a waltz sustained in midair without wires, a hovering constellation of structural elements which draw life from one another. They all mesh together in a manner akin to poetic enjambment, and presuppose one another. (The horizon: the enjambment of earth and sky.) Each is, in fact, only a reflection of all the others. (Compare Shade: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain….”) Every pattern of certainties is woven from fortunate “misprints” — footprints, missteps, misadventures — a careful confusion of foreordained accidents.
Look closely and you can see two panels of sky carefully stitched together along the seam of a telephone wire. The horizon between earth and sky is the original “great seam.” Heidegger called the patchwork of concealed destinies that assemble our world “jointure,” Gefüge (see Holzwege, pages 354 ff).
What Heidegger called Gefüge should be distinguished from Gerechtigkeit, “mutual justification,” as in the “justification” of page margins — Nietzsche’s late-metaphysical revision of truth as Richtigkeit (rectitudo) the one-way correspondence of the word with its object (see Holzwege, page 247). Gefüge, jointure, hearkens back to the Greek δίκη not as justice, das Recht, as it is reflexively translated (cf. Nietzsche’s Anaximander translation) but as what Heidegger called der Fug, the marriage of concealment with unconcealment in Ereignis. In the Anaximander fragment, in Heidegger’s more original reading, δίκη stands for nothing less than truth as unconcealment.
A straightedge or “rule” (ein Rechtes) is the product of jointure, Fug. (The horizon line is the “original seam” or straightedge presupposed by both geometry and geographical space). The mutual justification of parts (Gerechtigkeit) which characterizes Nietzsche’s ideal of truth cannot proceed according to a metaphysical rule (ratio) even in the form of a changing value posited by the will to power in its unconditioned self-revaluation.
In the Anaximander fragment, metaphysics is not “conflated with moral philosophy” as relic of a primitive stage of thought. Nor is δίκη a metaphor. Δίκη and χρεών (κατα τo χρεών: according to custom, “usage,” necessity) are original names for Being as truth in Western metaphysics.
The “event” of Being marries expectation with surprise. The possibility of being dumbstruck with surprise would vanish absent a god’s foreknowledge and leave no imprint in the memory. If destiny was not woven out of miscues, the first step in all our journeys would bring us to our appointed goal and abolish sense — along with the sense of motion — altogether. (Shade compares divine creation happily to poetic composition. Both stagger the imagination.) Error makes up the entire matter (ὕλη) or content of truth. Truth, in its turn, is nothing more than the form of error—that is, literally nothing. Form, the all-seeing, is as empty as the blue sky over a hillside. (Being is not a being; cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics Z: form, μορφή, is Being — τό τί ἦν εἶναι—not a being — τόδε τι.) Both harmony and surprise share equal primogeniture in the court of Being. Being does not govern change enthroned in a “timeless now” (nunc stans). It is a watchword for what is surprising, strange, rare (selten, one of Heidegger’s favorite epithets for Being) and transitory.
Caught up in this promiscuous interplay of opposites, even the social and economic relations dear to literary-critical theorists — not to mention pupils of gender studies — are “mystified” (a pejorative term purloined from Marxism) by Being as Geheimnis, mystery, and lose their illusion of rationality.
— The “Thing” as Axle-Tree of History
“To be” as Ereignis (the Event) enlists past and future in its service, thinker and god, earth, the thing, and the sky under whose horizon every being is measured. (Sky, der Himmel, is one element of the Fourfold, Geviert, and corresponds in later Heidegger to Aristotle’s “formal cause.”) The pieces of this puzzle fit together as history. The centerpiece around which history forms is always the perceived thing (cf. Merleau-Ponty). History pivots around the “thinging of the thing” (Dingen des Dinges) as the live core of history and the thing’s essence (Wesen). See Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 46. The thing is only one structural component (albeit the centerpiece) of Being. Being as “world-cycle” begins and ends in the thing. Every metaphysics is blind to the shifting interdependence of all these features, at the same time as it constructs its interpretation of the Being of beings by foregrounding one of them.
— Become Who You Are: Normativity and Causality in Nietzsche’s
“New Physics” of The Will to Power
Zarathustra’s famous injunction to “become who you are” (Werde, wer du bist) failed, in the end, to transform Nietzsche’s “most abysmal thought” (Ecce Homo) — i.e. the thought of eternal recurrence — into joyous affirmation (necessity into possibility).
But fortune smiles on failure in the looking-glass world inaugurated by Heidegger’s thinking (Andenken, Gedächtnis) of Being. Thinking thinks the truth of Being, not the truth of beings, under whose pregnant misdirection Being both reveals and conceals itself from metaphysics.
Like every prior metaphysical interpretation of the Being of beings (see above, this note, “The Death of God”) the Being of beings as will to will, or “will to power,” was supposed to emerge triumphant through a process of historical self-becoming which implied, in Nietzsche’s case, the death of God, der Tod Gottes, followed by God’s distinctive resurrection and transformation. (See next section, this note.) Remember that western metaphysics is onto-theo-logy.
Compare Jenseits von Gut und Böse, 150: um Gott herum wird Alles…zur “Welt,” around God everything becomes world.
(Around the hero or superman everything “becomes tragedy” and sacrifice — Opfer — the fate of a death without resurrection. Only a hero really knows how to die. The “last man”—like das Man—is just faking it.)
“Power” in Nietzsche — from the Latin valuere, to be strong — connotes robustness of Being in the sense of superabundance: the truth of beings as will to will. Valuere gives us the English words “value” and “evaluation.”
“Being” in Nietzsche means valuation by the will. For Nietzsche, all beings are values. Will (the Being of beings) is the eternally-recurrent valuation and re-valuation of all values (i.e. beings).
The will as valuere wills strength. Therefore the will to will is the will to power. The will, by its nature, straddles the boundary between “weak” and “strong,” and therefore partakes of a kind of non-being—just as, for Aristotle, movement is the “actuality of the non-actual (τό δυνατόν) as such” (Physics 201a 10–11). This property of the will makes it a byword for disruption and change.
In Nietzsche’s notes on the will to power, possibility (τό δυνατόν) collapses upon actuality (ἐνεργεία) in the eternal recurrence of what is identical (das Gleiche). As an antidote to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic posturing, Nietzsche appeared to grant the will complete disposal over its possibilities.
According to Nietzsche the will, understood in terms of the will to power as the Being of beings, is a will sufficient to itself, a will in possession of itself. It is no longer a self-lacerating hunger, forever prey to its unappeasable appetite, as in Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer’s only prescription for counteracting the will’s ravenous hunger was the narcotic slumber induced by contemplation of Platonic beauty—nihil as opiate.
The Babbitt-like intensity of Schopenhauer’s loathing for Schelling, among other thinkers who far outshone him, ushered in a half-century of psychologism in German philosophy, the malign influence of which on the philosophy of his own day still preoccupied Husserl.
Schopenhauer’s philosophy of the will is a forerunner of modern sociobiological attempts to explain behavior on evolutionary grounds. Such explanations lack both scientific accountability and the self-critical awareness of Platonic “fables” (compare the Timaeus). In any case, Schopenhauer’s work on the will barely rises to the level of philosophy.
The conventional romanticism of Schopenhauer’s faux-philosophical “attitudes” shares ancestry with such disparate hybrids as nineteenth-century literature, esoteric religious fads like theosophy and even the American-style “Buddhism” practiced today by Silicon-Valley entrepreneurs.
Nietzsche’s will to power boasts an incomparably more resplendent lineage: Aristotle by way of Eckhart, Leibniz and Hegel. Nevertheless, it overshot its Schopenhauerean mark—the rise of modern nihilism and banality—and fixed itself in the modern zeitgeist as little more than an ingenious device for turning stubborn matter into an endless, self-sufficient supply of clean energy. It was to personal ethics as cold fusion was to economics. Both were a venture capitalist’s dream.
(Nihilism is banality, and Schopenhauer was its personification. Banality is the only true evil.)
The recurring theme of Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche’s will to power was that, where great thinkers are concerned, danger skirts opportunity. Danger was in the air. Heidegger’s lectures were written at a time when Nietzsche, in a bowdlerized adaptation, was a respected or at least tolerated National Socialist luminary.
Motion tends to present itself to us nowadays frozen in the chilly formula “distance over time” (d/t). Motion, in its modern institutionalized form as encountered in a freshman physics class, reeks of ideality and stasis.
Modern physics necessarily negates motion by its very methodology, even though motion is definitive of φύσις, nature. Aristotle’s Physics is a metaphysics of motion. Nietzsche’s metaphysics of the will to power is its historical successor or finishing touch, the final capstone on the edifice of western metaphysics.
Pay keen attention to the basic meaning of motion in Greek: “arousal,” “disturbance.” Κίνησις, motion, in Greek has sexual connotations: κινεῖν means to screw or “bang” in Aristophanes. The will to will rediscovers and uncorks and releases the original thrill of motion in its wild state, as it existed for the Greeks and as it exists in our deepest memories of rocking chairs and roller coaster rides.
Motion is emotion: it moves us. We are creatures of motion, composed entirely of motion in its three simultaneous phases: terminus a quo (starting point) terminus ad quem (destination, purpose, goal) and the blurred interval of space between them, half matter, half void, in which our bodily “thinghood” consists—that abstraction of classical physics, the “moving body.”
All three phases of motion “envelop” one another. Compare Merleau-Ponty’s espace d’ implication, “space of envelopment.” Space partes extra partes—part exterior to part—is just an abstraction of classical physics.
The will to will is dynamic, powerful and disruptive, like the tech industry. As a milestone of late modern metaphysics, a certain superannuated splendor and allure of sexiness still clings to the will to power despite its somewhat tawdry intellectual history, owing to Nietzsche’s preeminence as a thinker and to the sweeping finality of its inspired design, sketched out in a few scattered notebooks and buried deep in the Nachlaß, where Nietzsche left it to germinate and fertilize his thought. It is fatal to Nietzsche’s reputation as a thinker to regard these notes (or any one strand of his published work) as embodying his “philosophy.”
Lust disenchants the world, said C.S. Lewis. Under Being’s spell of enchantment, prince becomes toad, the world a “universe” of interests projected by our strength. This universe as it revolves turns back upon us in a predatory form: “Desire (salt, black, ravenous, unanswerable desire) took him by the throat,” That Hideous Strength.
Being as will to will, despite its exciting allure, seals off the self from the source of all enchantment: immovable Being itself in its steadfast refusal (Verweigerung) to gratify the imperial will’s ceaseless quest for movement.
(Lewis actually used the words “Lust disenchants the universe” in That Hideous Strength and therefore was implicated—like all of us—in the world’s disenchantment. As a work of Christian apology, Lewis’s novel is a tool of western metaphysics, but transcends its baneful spell in other respects.
We say we were enchanted when we met that someone special, not that we lusted. Enchantment turns to lust when the world turns into a universe.)
Having demolished Schopenhauer’s sentimentalized philosophy of the will with tools like the “will to power,” Nietzsche continued to hone these tools in order to sensitize himself to the limitations of the will to power itself. Only by a deep meditation (Besinnung) upon his works is it possible to understand what Heidegger meant by metaphysics as forgetfulness of Being.
With an eye to self-becoming and strength, Being as will to will devalues identity (das Gleiche) as stasis and re-values it as growth, movement, becoming (non-identity as super-identity). Nietzsche managed to turn the glorious failure of this metaphysics into one of his most signal achievements.
All metaphysics wills Being. But in Nietzsche’s case, since Being is valuation (self-surpassing will) the will wills itself and only itself, “empowering” itself to exceed itself. The will to will is unconditioned by anything external to itself. The history of western metaphysics is dynamically impelled toward this late-nineteenth century consummation of itself thanks to its initial forgetfulness of Being.
The “strength” in valuere denotes fullness of Being, not its opposite, brutality or violence — Latin impotentia or “rage,” Greek ὕβρις, German Rasen—in general, weakness of will: inability to control the will. Weakness of will=deficiency of Being. This is light-years away from what Nietzsche means by the will to power.
Nietzsche’s theory of the will to power can be thought of as a “new physics” (as one commentator describes it) but only in so far as, like Aristotle’s Physics, it is a metaphysical treatment of φύσις, unconcealment (Being).
— God Is Dead
In a famous passage in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (aphorism 125, Der tolle Mensch, “The Madman”) a prophet runs through the marketplace with his lantern crying “I seek God! I seek God!” (Ich suche Gott! Ich suche Gott!).
But God is nowhere to be found. All our churches stink like sepulchers. They are filled with the stench of God’s corpse. God is dead. We have killed him. The madman breaks his lantern and departs.
Death and resurrection are manifestations of God’s eternal becoming as will to power. As onto-theo-logy, metaphysics conflates the Being of beings with divine Being (Aristotle’s τό θεῖον). The death of God is a necessary prelude to the overcoming of nihilism through a revaluation of values.
In the guise of “the madman” Nietzsche proclaims: “We killed God with our Platonism. Behold His resurrection as will to power.”
God’s death—and hence Platonism—was a necessary prerequisite to God’s rebirth. To be is to be reborn, that is, to “become who one is.”
Werde, wer du bist! says Zarathustra, become who you are. Platonism and Christianity are necessary consequences and presuppositions of the will to power.
Being wills itself in manifold forms throughout the history of metaphysics. Prior to Nietzsche, the will willed itself as Platonic Form, divine substance and truth (Hegel).
Now it wills itself unconditionally as will, by expressly making these prior manifestations of itself conditions of its existence. It lays its own ground (necessary and sufficient conditions).
This is what Heidegger meant by calling the will to will “unconditioned” (unbedingt). The will liberates itself from the constraints of the thing (das Ding) and wills only itself.
The will to power, that consummate dramatist, stages its own death as prequel to its resurrection. Time, space and world are works of art. Through its resurrection, the will to power becomes what it is.
Human beings, false prophets all, sin against the light, slandering it with names like “Form” or “substance.” The hero takes the sins of the world upon his head and dies for his fellow man in an act of redemption adapted to the stage as “tragedy.”
The will to power is the Being of gods, heroes and men. Gods, heroes and men are all expressions of the will to power. Together they constitute Being in its essence.
Being “distributes itself across a scale of possibilities” which define its essence. The scale runs the gamut from man to god. Distribution is Gerechtigkeit, justification or adjustment, Nietzsche’s word for truth. (See below, “Justification.”)
Gods, of course, are fictions. But so are men. Der letzte Mensch and der Übermensch are but two such fictions. Beings are fictionalized by the will to power, for which “art is higher than truth.”
See Heidegger’s “ The Word of Nietzsche, ‘God Is Dead,’” (Nietzsches Wort, ‘Gott ist tot,’” Holzwege, pages 209-267).
Gods, heroes and men fictionalize themselves, since they are all identical to the will to power. God fictionalizes His death and resurrection. Man fictionalizes the death of man and the resurrection of God.
Compare W.B. Yeats (from Two Songs from a Play):
I saw a staring virgin stand
Where holy Dionysus died,
And tear the heart out of his side,
And lay the heart upon her hand
And bear that beating heart away;
And then did all the Muses sing
Of Magnus Annus at the spring,
As though God’s death were but a play.
Compare the Sacred Heart. The Magnus Annus is the Great Year: the recurrent thousand-year cycle of creation and destruction which ushers in the Golden Age (and quickly shows it the door again).
— Normativity and Necessity
In the age of the consummation of metaphysics, the withdrawal of Being occasions a host of compulsions or “necessities,” all of which fall under the umbrella of what modern ethics calls normative necessity.
Normative necessity is distinct from that which attunes Dasein to the call of conscience in Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (Being and Time). In Sein und Zeit, conscience summons ein nötigte (compelled, troubled) Dasein out of das Man into authentic selfhood or Eigentlichkeit.
Necessity for Heidegger is Not–wendigkeit: the anxious searching occasioned by a Not—“need,” “distress,” desideratum. Not is a structural element in the question of Being. To question (Greek δέομαι) is to lack, need (Greek δέω). Mortals lack possession of the ground of their own Being (their conditions of possibility).
Normativity (a norm is a residue left by a valuation, hence a “value”) is a metaphysical concept arising from Nietzsche’s consummation of western metaphysics as will to power.
According to the metaphysics of the will to power, all possible motives of human action (biological, social, rational) are products of the will. The will to power as will to will is metaphysics’ answer to the question of the Being of beings. In accordance with Being as the will to power, every will wills the motives of its own action as norms.
Hence the will to power inaugurates a new age in which the will takes possession of its own conditions of possibility (necessary conditions) and puts them to work to its own ends. Necessity collapses upon possibility (and “efficient” cause upon final cause—see next section). All this is implicit in the idea of “normative necessity.”
Norms are dictated by what Heidegger called das Man (the “they”). Das Man is the subject of the will to power. The will to power is one of the historical façades behind which Being conceals itself as metaphysics. Metaphysics is the squid’s ink which protects Being from human appropriation.
If Nietzsche had not sensed something like the tyranny of das Man lurking underneath the bravado of will to power, I do not think he would have kept it at arm’s length among his unpublished writings and used it primarily as a weapon in his quarrel with Schopenhauer, whose neurasthenic philosophy of the will he saw as a symptom of the rise of modern nihilism.
Nevertheless, the power and influence of this strain of Nietzsche’s thought on the subsequent rise and preeminence of technological nihilism cannot be denied.
This is perhaps every great thinker’s most important legacy: to demonstrate, in the humility of self-sacrifice, for subsequent thinkers how Being reveals itself by concealment. Heidegger himself no doubt thirsted for the honor of such a fate, cast in an unforeseeable form in some future transmutation of thinking.
— Causality From Aristotle to Schopenhauer
We are creatures of motion, composed entirely of motion in its three simultaneous phases: terminus a quo, terminus ad quem, and the blurred interval of space between them in which our bodily “thinghood” consists. Western metaphysics has designated the kind of motion which defines Being as agere: to drive, impel or prod. Being is a driving/being-driven. All Being is self-compelled.
Agere drives creatures the way a Roman cowherd (vaccarius) once drove (agere) his cattle with a cattle prod (stimulus) along a dusty cow track to cries of uah! age! uah! — the same way Parallax, the god of astronomy, drives the constellations in chapter 14 of Ulysses (“Huah! Hark! Huah! Parallax stalks behind and goads them….”).
Latin agere is another word for “causation” in the western metaphysical tradition. Causality and Being are yoked by metaphysics in a single fate. Agere is the father of all modern drives, impulses and willed purposes.
All modern causality is “efficient”: it makes (Latin facere, German Wirken) something real or actual. Just as what Aristotle meant by the word αἰτία was crucially altered by its transformation into the Latin causa (see below) so the word he coined to express Being (ἐνέργεια) became actualitas (Wirklichkeit) — a kind of being-made (Hergestelltheit, being-produced).
The past participle of agere, actus, gives us such words as act, activity and actuality, and designates the kind of infinite Being which is the self-created source of all finite being. It is the divine actus purus of the Christian Scholastic tradition. The Creator is Maker: prima causa, first cause, causa sui — that which makes itself. As Maker, the first cause is also final cause. The German translation of cause, Ur-sache, literally means “first thing.”
From medieval Scholastic philosophy to modern American Pragmatism, western metaphysics is happiest at its busiest. It prefers doing to Being. It has lost its old aristocratic flair for idleness. Even its sovereign deity is a glorified shoemaker. Being itself — whether in the form of a deity or not — is merely an encapsulation and distillation of motion, a model of heedless efficiency, promoted from the ranks of the working class, so to speak, into Old Money, from the shop floor to the manager’s office. In Being as actuality, the ineffable god of Hebrew vatic writings is wrestled down to human size.
Thus it was only a matter of time, it seems, until Being—now a self-motivated business go-getter overhauled and refitted for nineteenth-century tastes—reached its nadir of impoverishment in Schopenhauer’s principle of causality. In his infamous dissertation on Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason — which he rechristened the principle of causality — Schopenhauer erased the last remaining vestiges in modern philosophy of an original, pre-Latin understanding of causality and Being brought to light by the Greeks twenty-five centuries ago and memorialized in Aristotle.
(Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason answers the question: “Why are there beings and not nothing?” See “Aἰτία and the Scale of Being” below.)
The Being of beings is motion. Motion is agere, causa efficiens. Every being, or agere, is the helpless victim of a previous agere—wears the scar of the same cattle prod—world without end. The only antidote to this affliction, taught Schopenhauer, is the rather old-fashioned, flavorless laudanum of contemplation. The au courant philosopher swoons for Platonic beauty. Schopenhauer’s “contemplation” is a luxury suite with home theater for the successful man about town.
Decontextualized fragments from the history of philosophy — foremost among them a concept of the will stolen from Hegel — were put in motion by Schopenhauer in a vain attempt to breathe life into a fashionable sentimental attitude: pessimism. Schopenhauer pictured himself as holding court serenely amid a chaos of rampant, aimless drives as sovereign lord and subject. He basked in the flattering light of a self-created nihilism, shielded by solitude from any trace of critical sunshine which would have dispersed his vapid formulations like fog on a lake.
The gulf that separates Nietzsche’s metaphysics of the will to power from Schopenhauer’s opportunistic collection of picked-over themes from the philosophical attic can best be seen by examining what Aristotle understood by “cause.” Nietzsche attempted to rescue Being from Schopenhauer’s nihilism by unknowingly resurrecting a Greek idea of causality, in the process rehabilitating Leibniz, whose lead Nietzsche—also unknowingly—followed all the way to the consummation of western metaphysics.
— Aristotle’s Four “Answerabilities” (αἴτιαι) and the Scale of Being
Let us take a moment to dissect the Greek word αἰτία and explore its historical connections with the Greek word ἄγω.
Greek ἄγω, like its Latin sister word, ago, can mean to lead, fetch, carry, drive, but in Greek it has another special meaning: to displace the arm of a balance beam (τάλαντον) in a downward direction.
The adjective minted from this sense of ἄγω is ἄξιος, “heavy,” deserving, having worth or importance. Compare the modern word axiom.
From the Greek word ἄγω in the sense of “depress the arm of a balance beam” it is only a short but fateful step to the Latin ago and agere in the sense of actus, actuality and causa.
Causa is thought to derive from the Latin cado, “to fall.” The past participle of cado (casus) means “that which is the case.”
The modern French chose, thing, stems from causa, as does the Italian cosa. The “thing” is one phase or moment of motion: the blurred interval between a terminus ab quo and a terminus ad quem.
In the word cado, fall, one hears the downward swing of the arm of a balance beam (libra) just as in the case of the Greek ἄγω. Weight makes the pan of a scale fall or “kick the beam.”
Stripped of its original intimations of “balance” (what final cause is every efficient cause balanced against?) the multidimensional Greek αἰτία devolves into the one-dimensional Latin causa. Every being is driven (actus) unidirectionally into reality either by itself or by another being, and then as quickly kicked to the curb. (Big fish eat little fish.) Being becomes actuality.
What is it about the Greek word αἰτία that steadily murmurs “balance” under its hallowed, ancient breath? What does the mechanism of the balance beam that resonates in the word signify?
— Zeus’s Lightning
Greek τάλαντον, scale, is related to the verb τλάω, to venture or to dare: “to have the courage, hardihood, effrontery, cruelty” or to have the “grace [and] patience” to do something (Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon).
Note how Liddell and Scott phrase the definition of τλάω as either/or, posing two kinds of venturing on opposite sides of a balance.
Heidegger compared τάλαντον to the German Waage, scale, and Wagnis, risk, venture (English wager) both of which he derived from the word wegen: “to be on the way,” unterwegs.
Zeus balances (πάλλω) lightning in his hand like a spear before hurling it (ἐρείπω) with a swing of his arm. Force emerges from balance as “swing” — ῥιπή, ῥοπή, Latin momentum(from the past participle of moveo, to move). Momentum is the downward swing of a balance beam.
The concept of momentum applies both to the downward swing (Erschwingung, vibration) of a scale and to a mass sufficient to move it. Mass has Schwung (German “momentum,” from the past participle of schwingen). It is the concentrated potentiality of motion.
All motion, or “swing,” falls around an absent (distant? legendary?) center. (Compare Fallen and Verfallen in Being and Time.)
Our careening orbital trajectory around an absent center is in equal measure an approach and a retreat, a quest and evasion of the self. We fall through curved space, and our sense of direction is warped by our progress along a historical arc which may or may not reach the longed-for summit of its departure point.
Our crooked track is a visible manifestation of Being as presence/absence, and as withdrawal. Our life-histories are etched in the night sky in the motion of the celestial bodies—nos semblables, nos frères—which we use to track time.
Ceaseless motion parks us like a satellite in geostationary orbit directly opposite Being, which is both our mirror image and the fulcrum of the scale on which we swing. “It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place,” says the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass.
In his 1950 public lecture Das Ding (“The Thing”) Heidegger described Ereignis (Being) as a “mirror play” (Spiegel-Spiel, Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 52). Dasein is “reverberation” (Gegenschwung) and Being is pure “vibration” (Erschwingung):
“Ereignis [is] a reverberation of Being and Dasein in which each exists only as the pure vibration itself.” (Das Er-eignis [ist] jenen Gegenschwung von Seyn und Da-sein, in dem beide nicht vorhandene Pole sind, sondern die reine Erschwingung selbst, Beiträge, pages 286–287.)
(Ereignis is Being itself as the “event.”)
Modern physics treats Being as harmonic oscillation (compare a quantum-electron field). This pleased Heidegger and cemented his lifelong friendship with Heisenberg.
The data-altering observation of quantum events (Quantenereignisse) is the scale in which modern physics poses its questions. After a two-thousand year swing through the heaven of metaphysics, Latin causa returns to its Aristotelian beginning. Cause is αἰτία, the answer to a physicist’s questioning (αἴτησις—see below).
All motion topples from a state of balance as from a state of grace, and returns to it as rest. Schwung, momentum, is concentrated stillness. Being has “moment.”
Hamlet speaks of “enterprises of great pith and moment.” Momentum characterizes both steadfast motion and steadfast rest. (Rest is both the limit case of motion and its essence.) It takes a long pry bar to dislodge a great planet from its miles-per-second sleep.
Why dredge up all this dead Greek and Latin? The answer is simple. When Being is characterized solely in terms of “moment” (actus, efficient cause) the most important factor is left out. Things only have weight (Being) in relation to a scale.
— Aἰτία and the Scale of Being
Things have weight (Being) only in relation to a scale. Things have answers (Being) only in relation to a question (i.e., the question of Being).
We question things upon their Being. Being itself is “most worthy” of question (das Fragwürdigste, τόν ἀξιώτατον, the “heaviest” or most momentous, from Greek ἄγω, to drive down a scale).
One Greek verb meaning “to question” is αἰτέω. Aἰτιάομαι means to allege as cause. A cause (αἰτία) is the answer to a question, and to pose a question is to pose something in a scale. Is a thing x, or not-x? Let the scale decide.
(Aἰτιάομαι also means to censure, blame, accuse. Compare κατηγορεῖν: to accuse or allege. It is the basis of Aristotle’s word “category,” κατηγορία.
The ἀγορά—public square or marketplace, forum, courtroom—is something like the Lichtung, clearing, where the natures of things become visible.
In addition to αἰτέω, there is another Greek word which means “to ask”: δέομαι, from δέω, to want, lack. A lack is a need, German Not.
Notwendigkeit — the blundering, groping search in the dark for an inexpressible need, or Not — means “necessity.” Compare Irrtum, “errancy.”
Being fulfills our blind search for the self. We are indebted, schuldig, to Being for our Being, which consists in thinking—i.e., questioning—Being. See below, The Principle of Potius Quam.)
Things are heavy (have “causal power”) only in relation to a scale. A scale, strictly speaking, has no weight except in relation to another scale. Being is both the heaviest object and the scale in which it is weighed.
It is this baffling conjunction of star signs, this alignment of contrary planets—two apparently antithetical senses of Being—over which western metaphysics has scratched its head for twenty-five centuries, never succeeding in gaining mastery.
— The Philosophy of the Mirror
What Heidegger called the Lichtung (Ereignis as “clearing”) inaugurates a mirror play of contraries (Entgegenkommende—Zur Sache des Denkens, page 80).
The mirror play of contraries is the primary object of what Hegel called “speculative philosophy”—the philosophy of the speculum, mirror. Chief among contraries (after Being and non-Being) are the “heavy” and the “light.”
The twofold foundation of the philosophy of nature in 19th-century German Idealism, Licht und Schwere, heaviness and light, evolved into the continuous matter-energy field of 20th-century German physics.
Husserl’s so-called phenomenological field, with its interlinked contraries, noesis and noema (corresponding to Kant’s Transcendental Logic and Transcendental Aesthetic) is nature’s subjective double: Dasein as field of presence.
Nature is Being, the object of all science and philosophy. Nature includes Dasein.
Ereignis, Being as mirror play, encounters itself (Sein) in the looking glass. Being “uses” (braucht) mortals in order to see itself. It does so by eliciting the question of Being, thus inviting mortals to take up temporary residence in Dasein, Being’s mirror image.
Lichtung—the mirror of Being—begets Licht, light. Fire ignites in its depths. Sein and Dasein are vibrations from the same flickering light source buried in its dark heart.
Vibrations propagate. They generate a scale (calibration of increments) defined by two contraries. Intervals diminish and increments multiply “at will” (whose will, ours or Being’s, remains unanswerable) through division of magnitudes, as temporalization opens rifts in the fabric of space.
Contraries form two arms of a single scale (balance beam) whose fulcrum is Ereignis. Each arm of the scale is related to the other as question to answer. Contrary answers contrary in the mirror of Being, each the reverse image of other.
The scale of Being vibrates with movement, reflection and interrogation. Place responds to place and gives birth to the motion of stars.
Leibniz, following hypnotically in the near-extinct footsteps of Aristotle and the Greeks, used this scale without knowing it to fashion his principle of sufficient reason, so cruelly mutilated in Schopenhauer’s obtuse reading.
— The Principle of Potius Quam
Dead specimens of Heidegger’s living thought are preserved in formaldehyde on the shelves of many American libraries in the form of English translations. Two such notable translations of Being and Time contain the word “being-guilty,” an accurate but no less unfaithful transcription of the German Schuldigsein.
In the mirror of Being contraries, posed on opposite sides of a scale, respond to each other as question and answer. Being is “responsion” (a metrical term from prosody) and answerability. Question and answer is strophe and antistrophe.
We say that someone is “answerable for a crime,” i.e., responsible for it (verantwortlich für). To be answerable for something is to be its cause (αἰτία).
We are the cause of beings in the sense that the questions they elicit from us are answered by their Being. Beings have their Being thanks to us, that is, thanks to our questions. They are indebted (schuldig) to us for their Being.
(Das sind wir den nigerianischen Wählern schuldig: “This is what we owe the Nigerian electorate”—Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.)
We in turn are indebted to Being for our Being. The questions we pose about ourselves as beings have a Being of their own. We are beings whose Being consists of questions. We are the question of Being.
Schuldigsein therefore means being indebted to Being for one’s own Being. We are the cause of our indebtedness. The question that we are elicits the answer: “You are debt (Schuld) owed to Being. Your Being is Schuldigsein, questioning.”
The question: Why does something (das Seiende) exist rather than nothing (vielmehr als nichts) gives rise to Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason: “There is a reason why something exists rather than nothing” (ratio est cur aliquid potius existat quam nihil).
The words “rather than” (potius quam) contained in Leibniz’s principle mirror the same words found in his original question. Potius is from Latin posse, the power or potentiality of something.
The question holds two alternatives in balance while offering one for selection. The existence of both alternatives is affirmed by the question.
Both alternatives — Being and non-Being — are already implicitly contained in what answers the question, i.e., what trips the beam in favor of one of the two alternatives.
(See Heidegger’s 1928 lecture course on Leibniz, Metaphysische Anfangesgrunde der Logik, pages 141ff.)
Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason is a principle of balance. In Leibniz’s principle, there are still murmurs of an understanding of Being which left its traces on the origins of Greek philosophy.
Heidegger claimed that the music (Ton) of a philosopher’s pronouncements contains the essence of what a philosopher says. The words potius quam sing forth in the chorus of Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason, and are its distinctive voice.
The tone-deaf Schopenhauer left the words potius quam out of his famous dissertation version of Leibniz’s principle, thus reducing it to a principle of efficient, not sufficient, reason.
If western philosophy in one way or another always poses the question of Being, Schopenhauer never ascended to its exclusive ranks.
— Leibniz and Nietzsche
“There is a reason why something exists rather than nothing.” Ratio est cur aliquid potius existat quam nihil. So reads Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason. It answers the question: “Why are there beings and not nothing?”
Aliquid and nihil were placed by Leibniz on two sides of the same scale. The scale on which the two alternatives is weighed is ratio, reason or ground.
Ratio was Leibniz’s name for Being (Heidegger, Der Satz vom Grund, pages 40ff). Ratio is the reason both for the existence of beings and for their non-existence (Nicht-seiendheit).
(Mortals pose the question of Being and are in turn posed by it in Heidegger’s reformulation of Leibniz’s question: why is there Being—Sein—and not rather nothing—das Nichts? Being hangs in its own balance. See “Was ist Metaphysik,” 1929, Wegmarken, pages 103–122. )
Under Nietzsche, Leibniz’s ratio became the will to power. The will to power is a principle of valuation.
The will to power as the Being of beings is the eternally-recurrent valuation and re-valuation of all values, i.e. beings. “Being” in Nietzsche means valuation by the will. All beings are values.
Since Being is valuation (self-surpassing will) the will wills itself and only itself, “empowering” itself to exceed itself. The will to will is unconditioned by anything external to itself.
Being as will to power was already implicit in Leibniz’s startlingly prescient and forward-looking conception of substance (monad) as both appetitus and perceptio.
The will to power as metaphysical successor to Leibniz’s potius quam balances the competing values of appetite vs. perception — “art” vs. “truth,” destruction vs. preservation — and privileges one over in a way which corresponds with the metaphysical truth of beings.
Justification (Gerechtigkeit) was Nietzsche’s word for the metaphysical truth of beings. (Contrast the non-metaphysical truth of Being, Heidegger’s term for Ereignis.)
— Justification (Gerechtigkeit)
In Nietzsche’s Nachlaß, art is a “higher value” than truth considered metaphysically as correspondence: Richtigkeit, Latin rectitudo, i.e., correctness.
Truth as justification (Gerechtigkeit) adjusts the competing values of art and truth and “squares” them. Compare the justification of page margins in type-setting.
Truth as correspondence (Richtigkeit) holds matter together. Every being is a correspondence of elements, which in turn are correspondences of elements, in infinitum. Truth provides a stable platform for future acts of destruction and creation.
Art destroys established correspondences in order to forge new ones. Art is excess, surplus, creation. Without art, every being ceases to be what in truth it is: an expression of the will to power.
There is no such thing as the self in the true sense of the word if “truth” is taken in the old fashioned way as correspondence. The self is a receding series of replicas, Gleichnisse — similes, parables, “likenesses,” i.e., “art.”
The self is an expression of the will to power as eternal recurrence of the same (das gleiche) destruction and creation. The will to power remains identical to itself in its endless round of destruction and creation.
Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason is a principle of art, considered metaphysically as surplus. Leibniz’s carefully calibrated balance beam, on which he posed perceptio alongside appetitio as the dual conditions of Being, topples over under the ruthless weight of appetition. See Heidegger’s 1955/56 lecture course, Der Satz vom Grund.
Nietzsche’s will to power likewise is a principle of art, despite its claim to justify art and truth.
Truth as justification (Gerechtigkeit) is merely a remorselessly reiterated sequence of correspondences. (Compare Derrida’s l’écriture.) Neither Leibniz nor Nietzsche saw clearly the “respondence” (mirror play) which lies in the depths of Being.
Note that it was Nietzsche’s and Leibniz’s intimations (Ahnungen) of the truth of Being that impelled them toward the consummation of metaphysics as forgetfulness of Being. Among thinkers, metaphysics is a destiny reserved for the few.
— Justification (Gerechtigkeit) vs. “Jointure” (Gefüge)
Look closely and you can see two sections of sky carefully stitched together along the seam of a telephone wire. Heidegger called the patchwork of concealed destinies that assemble our world “jointure,” Gefüge.
In his essay “Der Spruch des Anaximander,” Heidegger asked: how should we translate the words κατα τo χρεών at the beginning of the Anaximander fragment, the earliest extant utterance of Being in the western metaphysical tradition?
Nietzsche translated the words κατα τo χρεών as “according to necessity.” In Heidegger’s reworking of the fragment into German, τo χρεών is not necessity. Nor is it usage, custom, habit. Τo χρεών is the enjoyment (Brauch) of destinies assembled (gefugt) by δίκη.
Δίκη is not justice, das Recht, as it is usually translated (cf. Nietzsche’s Anaximander translation). Δίκη is der Fug, the marriage of concealment with unconcealment in Ereignis. In Heidegger’s discussion of the Anaximander fragment, δίκη stands for truth as unconcealment.
Unconcealment is the jointure, Gefüge, of figure and ground in Merleau-Ponty’s Phénoménologie de la perception, and the play of visibility and invisibility in his Le Visible et L’ Invisible.
Gefüge is a jointure of destinies assembled by δίκη. It is distinct from Gerechtigkeit, justification (as in the justification or “squaring” of page margins). Justification is Nietzsche’s late-metaphysical revision of truth as Richtigkeit (rectitudo): the one-way correspondence of a word with its object.
Justification is the remorseless repetition of correspondence in a never-sufficient succession of destructive and creative acts. Justification operates according to Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason.
The principle of sufficient reason states that no given reason (being) is ever sufficient to its Being. Being is the will to will. Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason is the precursor of Nietzsche’s reinterpretation of the Being of beings as the will to power, the eternal recurrence of the same (gleiche) will to destruction and creation.
Δίκη, der Fug, supplies human life with everything implied by the notion of das Rechte, the “straight”: straight-edge rulers, the shortest distance between two points, right angles, truth as correspondence (Richtigkeit) justice (das Recht) and the rights (die Rechte) that follow from justice.
The original “straight edge” used to draw up the blueprints for the world is still visible in the form of the horizon line. The horizon line is the jointure of earth and sky in the appropriation of earth, sky, mortals and divinities in Ereignis.
The coherence and correspondence of forces of which matter is composed is nothing other than δίκη, der Fug. Logical relations—inherence, implication, conditions, “modal operators”—all possess validity thanks to δίκη. The component dimensions of time and space are assembled and reassembled by δίκη, remembered and dismembered.
Die Welt ist aus den Fugen is a close German approximation of Hamlet’s “The time is out of joint.” Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Die Je-Weiligen wesen an aus der Fuge zwischen Hervorkunft und Hinweg-gang (Holzwege, page 361). Beings come to presence in the gap (Fuge) between two nothings: coming-to-be and departing.
Die Fuge is the clearing, Lichtung, the double mirror where two conjoined nothings face each other across an abyss. The beings that come to presence in this interval between coming and going let δίκη, der Fug, prevail in it (διδόναι δικην).
Ereignis as jointure (Gefüge) — Heidegger’s answer to the question of Being — is not a solution to the “problem” of Being. The problem of Being cannot be solved (soluere). Being cannot be washed out of our hair once and for all so that we can “get on with our lives” and busy ourselves with beings.
When Being withdraws into concealment, beings disappear. As Merleau-Ponty said in Le visible et l’invisible, the question of Being is the question “that we ourselves are.”
In fact, Ereignis is not Heidegger’s answer to the question of Being at all, but Being’s. Being answers our well-framed questions, all the while retaining its anonymity and silence.
The power of Ereignis as jointure illuminates the inadequacy of the will to power as justification, Gerechtigkeit. But the word Ereignis, like every other word which answers the question of Being, speaks from silence and falls back into silence, shrouded by its protective secrecy.
— The Anaximander Fragment : Δίκη as der Fug
….κατά τό χρεών· διδόναι γάρ αύτά δίκην καί τίσιν άλλήλοις της άδικίας.
“Time ordains that all things must pay penalty and be judged for their injustice, according to necessity.”
So runs the earliest extant specimen of western philosophy, the “Anaximander fragment” (DK12B1) by Anaximander of Miletus, early sixth-century BCE, in a translation by Nietzsche.
Heidegger’s German rewording of the fragment runs: ….entlang dem Brauch; gehören nämlich lassen sie Fug somit auch Ruch eines dem anderen (im Verwinden) des Un-Fugs (Holzwege, page 361). Here is David Farrell Krell’s “correct” English translation:
“….along the lines of usage; for they let order and thereby also reck belong to one another (in the surmounting) of disorder.”
Δίκη—“justice,” penalty, in Nietzsche’s conventional translation—was paired by Heidegger with a word as yet unknown, and hence forgotten, in the mother tongue: Fug.
What is not yet known is forgotten. Knowledge of Being is “thinking.”
Das Bedenklichste ist, daß wir noch nicht denken (Was Heißt Denken? page 6): “What is most thought-provoking is that we are not yet thinking.” Being is what is most thought-provoking.
Being is not-yet-thinking. Not-yet-thinking is a provocation for mortals.
Being is also Seinsvergessenheit, forgetfulness of Being. Forgetfulness and procrastination are complementary ways Being manifests itself.
Forgetfulness and procrastination are the “same.” “Not yet” and “no longer” are temporal reflections of one another in the mirror of Ereignis.
Time is jointure (die Fuge). “Not yet” and “no longer” face each other across an abyss. They are the visible pellicule of what is “real.”
Being conceals itself in the “not yet” and the “no longer.” It is what by its nature is both deferred and forgotten.
Heidegger liberated der Fug from its safekeeping in forgetfulness by un-negating Unfug, “disorder.” He helped the word “become what it was.”
Der Fug is the answer to a question posed in a thoughtful dialogue with what comes to language in Anaximander’s word for Being as truth: δίκη.
Der Spruch des Denkens läßt sich nur in der Zwiesprache des Denkens mit dem Gesprochenen übersetzen, Holzwege, page 328:
“A thinker’s speech can only be translated in a thoughtful dialogue with what is spoken.”
Thoughtful translation is a leap over an abyss (Sprung über einen Graben, ibid, page 329).
Thinking is the translation (übersetzen, over-setting) of thoughts (words) into thoughts (words). Thinking is beholden to language. Language is Dichten, poetry.
Compare the Latin dictare. Poet and thinker take dictation from the truth of Being as if from a muse, not from the dictatorship of scholarly lexicons, with their established (“correct”) word correspondences.
Nevertheless, such lexicons are indispensable. With the help of thinking, Being translates itself out of our own language and back into it.
It leaps from an old dictionary into another, as-yet-unwritten one. We require old dictionaries in order to find our footing for a leap.
Being is at home in every language. But our own language is the most difficult to translate (that is, to translate into itself).
Translation is a leap over an abyss. The abyss which separates our own language from itself is the hardest to leap over, because we stand too close to its edge (weil wir hart an seinem Rande stehen, ibid).
The thinker interrogates what was spoken long ago in an alien but familiar tongue. It is as if he once spoke this foreign language in a dream or in a past life.
How could he have forgotten it? The more he ponders its dictionary meaning, the more the foreign word instills doubt and confusion in the thinker.
Like a recoil or an echo, the thinker’s doubt reverberates off an ancient doubt. An ancient doubt was once the crucible of a new thought.
A new word correspondent to the ancient thinker’s word flows like wine into the empty chalice of the thinker’s doubt. The thinker takes dictation from this new miracle at Cana. He records the interplay of Being’s dialogue with itself.
The thinker listens to what speaks to him in the Greek words of the Anaximander fragment. Anaximander’s voice cuts through the self-assured chatter of 2,500 years of dictionary meanings, which conceal what is said in a protective camouflage.
Language responds to language across an abyss. “Language first comes to language, i.e. into its essence, in thinking” (ibid, page 328).
Language only becomes language (becomes what it is) when it enjoins itself (sich fügt) to itself in a “new” language. It is out of this essence (the essence of language as the truth of Being) that the thinker takes dictation (dichtet, “poetizes”).
If we understand der Fug as “order” (as Krell does) we must keep in mind that the Latin word ordo (German ordnen) was commandeered long ago by metaphysics to describe the way Being as actuality (actualitas) generates multiplicity out of singularity and imposes order on it “from the top down,” like the God of Scholastic theology. This sense of order is antithetical to that of δίκη, der Fug.
The English word “order,” like its Latin parent, is etymologically related to the Greek words συναρμόζειν and συναρτᾶν: to join or harmonize. An ἄρθρον is a joint.
Compare German fugen, fügen, and die Fuge, “jointure.” Ungefüg means unbeholfen, clumsy. Order is aptitude. The thinking of Being is the source of all dexterity.
The same Proto-Indo-European root which gave us the word “order” also gave us the word “yoke.” Order, properly understood, does not yoke beings together like a plowman.
The heed (Ruch, τίσις, “reck”) that they pay to one another is what yokes beings together. Beings yoke themselves together by keeping order, δίκη, in view. Order held in view is observed. Observance is ritual.
Paying heed to another being brings it into unconcealment. When one being enjoins or yokes itself (sich fügt) to another being through the ritual observance of δίκη, der Fug, unconcealment comes to pass. Δίκη is another word for Being as truth.
— Rites Obviate Disorder, as Dykes Obviate Floods
According to the Liji, an ancient Chinese text, “rites obviate disorder, as dykes obviate floods.” Rites hold the flood against disorder. Δίκη (Fug) is a dyke.
When a being overflows its dyke by not paying heed to another being in the ritual observance of δίκη, boundaries are erased, and both beings fall out of Being. Δίκη is Being as unconcealment.
Things become visible only when they are composed or woven into a view through the due observance of order and sequence. Simultaneous parts must be read in the right temporal order. A view is a woven contexture of elements (Gefüge).
Every being “sequences” or inserts itself within the temporal order and its succession of “times.” It “becomes sequel to itself” — that is, it alternates between figure and ground in a swift modulation of the glance through which we “scan” or “read” the world.
It enjoins itself (sich fügt) to another being as figure to ground, then as ground to figure, in swift alternation. One being always plays the role of Being (a priori ground) to another’s “figure.”
By means of this swift modulation of the glance, beings hold coming-to-be and passing-away in jointure (in die Fuge; [d]ie Je-Weiligen wesen an aus der Fuge zwischen Hervorkunft und Hinweg-gang, Holzwege, page 361).
Coming-to-be and passing-away are held in jointure, and no being hogs the limelight. When one being “gives itself airs” (spreizt sich auf, “inflates itself”; cf. Sein und Zeit, page 567) and ceases to pay heed to other beings, the times become “out of joint,” as in Hamlet.
Beings crave presence. In order to remain constantly present, a being must jettison regard for other beings. It must become figure (being) and ground (Being) at once. It must impose order on beings “from the top down” as ratio or causa.
Beings which impose order “from the top down” as ratio or causa fail to pay heed to other beings in the due observance of Being. Figure collapses into ground.
Beings court Un-Fuge (disjointure) and Unfug (disorder). Unfug is Heidegger’s rendering of ἀδικία, commonly translated as “injustice.”
When beings fail to observe δίκη, the “dyke” between Being and beings fails. Being holds sway as nothing (nihil).
All beings (including the supreme being) are swallowed up and swept away in a flood of nothing (nihilism). Being as the essence of technology absorbs all beings as materiel.
In the ritual observance of Being, beings pay heed to one another and willingly sacrifice their own happiness (presence in the radiant light of Being) for the sake of another being’s happiness. Beings celebrate Being through acts of ritual sacrifice.
Being “uses” (enjoys) beings. Being celebrates (enjoys, braucht) itself in acts of ritual sacrifice performed by beings.
The mutual heedfulness through which unconcealment comes to pass happens κατά τό χρεών, according to “custom” or “usage” (Brauch). See Holzwege, pages 372–373.
….κατά τό χρεών· διδόναι γάρ αύτά δίκην καί τίσιν άλλήλοις της άδικίας.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
— W. B. Yeats, “A Prayer For My Daughter”
Truth is a ritual, a ceremony performed with word and gesture. It leaves no fingerprints on things. Beings remain unaltered by Being as unconcealment.
Emerging from darkness in the ceremony of truth, everything sparkles with the first dew of innocence and beauty.
All custom is ancient custom. Antiquity is born in the present. Being opens like a book upon the past and the future, in medias res.
The singular occasion of our birth is a “customary” event. The newborn babe is born out of custom, and custom is born out of the babe.
We are born accustomed to what is “original, spare, strange.” Being is both old and new: reborn in a ceremony as old as time with every new gurgle in the maternity ward.
Custom and ceremony thrive on novelty and birth. When Being withdraws into its concealment, beauty and innocence are debased along with custom and ceremony.
Being grants itself to ritual observance. It withholds itself from lip service (Gerede, idle talk; see Sein und Zeit, pages 167–170). Lip service speaks from the lips, not from the heart, the invisible center of Being:
“These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the commandment of men,” Isaiah 29:13. “Commandment of men”=das Man, the “they.”
Language as Gerede pays lip service to Being. Lip service is unobservant. Being employs lip service as a cover.
In lip service, Being preserves its essence unpolluted. Being, the unfulfilled possibility of beauty and innocence, remains unimpaired by its nonobservance.
Possibility is “higher than actuality” (Sein und Zeit, page 38). Actuality is anchored in possibility. Actuality is proximity to Being. Beings are proximate to Being when one being enjoins or yokes itself to another being through the ritual observance of δίκη.
Beings acquire actuality when they encounter each other in the fourfold (earth, sky, mortals and divinities) the “four causes” which assemble around Aristotle’s τόδε τι. The fourfold comes together (sich ereignet) in the ceremony of truth.
Thinking is submission to the rhythm of Being. Being is the rhythm of presence and absence. Absence is the lifeblood of presence. Absence is “higher” than presence.
Nietzsche’s famous miscounted noontide bells in the preface to the Genealogy of Morals resound against a background silence pregnant with the possibility and necessity of “counting” and “miscounting.”
Language and poetry—presence and absence articulated as rhythmic speech—keep a running count of the spaces and times which unfold as “world.” Language is our map of Being. Mathematics and science are its appendices.
Note well: if we weren’t essentially avid predators who feed on time, we would have nothing worthwhile to sacrifice. If we did not grant presence to another being through the sacrifice of our own, there would be no presence at all.
Beings presence as “selves.” Without presence, there is no self. (I am what I see.) Hence attempts to prove the self-interest of sacrifice run in circles. Being bestows sacrifice. Sacrifice is tendered as a gift.
Harmony enjoins itself by being glanced at by self-interested parties in conflict. Being has a “glancing” relevance to the affairs of men, consistent with its status as truth.
— Values Talk
Being as Ereignis is the rarest and most fleeting of all historical rarities. Soon after its fateful utterance δίκη — Anaximander’s word for truth — began to disintegrate into two tragically irreconcilable reflections of the same truth.
Δίκη and χρεών (κατα τo χρεών: according to enjoyment, Brauch) are original names for Being as truth in Western metaphysics.
Metaphysics began with Anaximander. Anaximander did not confuse metaphysics with moral philosophy. His words do not represent a primitive stage of thought, nor is δίκη a metaphor.
One reflection from Anaximander’s shattered mirror of Being gave us metaphysics as science. Science (ἐπιστήμη) thinks the truth of what is, what was and what will be.
The other reflection from Anaximander’s shattered mirror gave us metaphysics as ethics. Ethical philosophy thinks the truth of what should be. Already in Aristotle’s time, Anaximander’s phrase διδόναι δικην — let truth prevail in the clearing of Being — had become a stale legal term for punishment inflicted by the law.
Our legal judgments reflect our “values.” Their necessity is not the material necessity of contemporary model-theoretical logic. Their necessity is what we now call “normative” necessity. Norms are embodiments of what Heidegger called das Man, the “they.”
From its inception, metaphysics in its flowering underwent a catastrophic split between beings and values. Nietzsche’s twilight metaphysics of the will to power can be seen as a desperate rear-guard attempt to solder up the rift through which Being’s life’s-blood slowly oozes away.
Eternal recurrence was the mortar used by Nietzsche to seal up a failed joint. Beings and values are the “same” (das Gleiche).
Beings are values posited by the will to power in its eternal recurrence. Being is the jointure (justification, Rechtfertigung) of art and truth. Truth is “justice” (Gerechtigkeit).
Everything (das Seiende im Ganzen) wanes, smothered by the encroaching presence of nihilism. Nietzsche was driven by intimations of the truth of Being to combat nihilism, but mistook Being (Sein) for everything (das Seiende im Ganzen).
He was not in a historical position to see clearly that nihilism, which threatens the ascendancy of beings, is Being itself.
— Nietzsche’s Refusal (Verzichtung)
Nietzsche’s refusal to complete a masterwork on the will to power as eternal recurrence constitutes his essential thought, according to Heidegger in his stubbornly misunderstood account of Nietzsche’s metaphysics.
According to Heidegger, every true thinker in the history of metaphysics traces paths (Holzwege) of language (λόγος) through dense brush around a single thought which cannot be located precisely or left uninterrogated. Such paths promise passageway and then dwindle into the scrub.
The thinker is a forager. Foraging is λόγος (versammelndes Vorliegenlassen, “laying that gathers”; the Greek λέγειν means to gather, to let lie). Foraging is driven by need, German Not.
The thinker’s path through the scrub is a Wenden, winding, driven by need. The traveler “wends his way” through a wood. Thinking is Not–wendigkeit, necessity.
Human life is Irrtum, “errancy,” error. The thinker’s need is like a retreating lantern in a dark wood, drawing him on toward a destination enveloped in obscurity.
Think of Albrecht Dürer’s famous “Knight, Death and the Devil.” The wandering soul is a knight errant on a grail quest. The grail holds the liquor that sustains life.
Wandering (Irrtum) is the necessary prelude to every straight path. Wandering is not μετά ὁδόν, “methodical.” It does not pursue a straight path toward its τέλος: “end” or death.
[D]as Wesen der Sterblichen in die Achtsamkeit auf das Geheiß gerufen ist, das sie in den Tod kommen heißt:
“The essence of mortals calls upon them to heed a call that beckons them toward death” (Moira: Parmenides VIII, 34–41, Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil III, page 52, trans. David Farrell Krell).
Death is not the “end of the possible” (nicht Ende des Möglichen) but its gathered strength (höchste Ge-birg) ibid.
The straight path is the shortest distance between ourselves and what is. The straight path is the path of salvation.
The commencement of this path is undetectable, since it lies closer to us than we do to ourselves. The shortest path it inaugurates is also the steepest, since it leads to the höchste Gebirg.
The steepest path is the most arduous (cf. Beiträge, page 408, der kürzesten und steilsten Bahn). It leads back to the “first beginning” (erster Anfang).
Human life is an “earthly vale.” Wandering is our penance and our purgatory, like that of Orestes before his final absolution in the garden of Pallas Athena in Aeschylus’ Eumenides.
The insistence by some that Heidegger regarded the metaphysics of the will to power as Nietzsche’s essential thought is based on a misunderstanding of Heidegger’s statement from the Nietzsche lectures and elsewhere that Nietzsche was the last great metaphysician.
According to Heidegger, Nietzsche’s refusal (Verzichtung, renunciation) to publish a magnum opus on the will to power is his essential thought. Nietzsche was “the last great metaphysician” in his renunciation of metaphysics.
According to Heidegger, Nietzsche’s essential thought was what is described above as a Holzweg. A Holzweg (fire road) promises passageway through a dense wood and then dwindles into scrub. It emblemizes human life.
For Nietzsche in his renunciation of metaphysics, Being is a like a promise held in divine suspense. Words fail the thinker, who offers up his own Being as pledge for what cannot be said. The thinker’s renunciation and sacrifice disclose Being in its essence.
As architect of the will to power, Nietzsche “took the sins” of metaphysics upon himself in order to redeem them by his death. The heirs to western metaphysics are “washed in the blood of the lamb.” Nietzsche became the first mortal.
Nietzsche was the metaphysician who brought metaphysics as forgetfulness of Being into the open by renouncing it. Once brought into the open and abandoned to itself as the will to power, metaphysics entered its most obdurate and prolonged phase.
It became the province of science, chief caretaker of forgetfulness. Modern science—in both its “humane” and natural divisions—is in thrall to the essence of technology.
Academia is rife with simple-minded assessments of Heidegger’s Nietzsche lectures which treat him more like a Times theater critic panning a Broadway play than a philosopher who let the past speak in the carefully curated silence (das Schweigen) of the present.
Such assessments of Heidegger’s “criticism” treat Nietzsche more like a franchise than as a source of enlightenment. Specialty journals buzz with the excitement of investors anxious to protect their stock portfolios.
Examples of such misunderstanding can be found even in some of the notes appended to David Farrell Krell’s excellent four-volume English translation of Heidegger’s Nietzsche lectures (Nietzsche: Harper and Row, 1979).
Nietzsche’s refusal — his silence — and his repudiation of willed ja sagen is what makes him the preeminent thinker of the transitional man, Über-mensch, in the present age of the consummation of metaphysics, according to Heidegger.
— The Word
Compare Nietzsche’s Verzichtung, renunciation, to Stefan George’s in his poem “Das Wort” (“The Word”)—subject of Heidegger’s essay “Das Wort,” Unterwegs zur Sprache, pages 219–238.
The poet imagines that the words he speaks are jewels (kleinod): sights and sounds imported from some dream or distance (Wunder von ferne oder traum). Dreams are both near and far and more and less real than anything we can grasp in the flesh.
The words the poet speaks give such palpable weight to things that he can hold them in his hand. He becomes swollen with pride at the power of language.
A poet who mastered the currency of language could mint beings like gold and give Being palpable presence in the affairs of men.
Compare Plato’s Theaetetus, 198b: mastery (κεκτῆσθαι) of a thing’s Being makes it ready to hand (πρόχειρον). Being as Form (εἶδος) is the distant relative of what Heidegger called Gestell — the master template, coined in the logical language of computer programming, used by a 3-D printer for stamping out replicas.
But when the poet tries to coin Being into the language of poetry, words fail him. His precious plunder melts on the customs quay and slips back into the silence (Verschwiegenheit) from which it emerged.
“The treasure escaped my hand” (meiner hand entrann) back to its source, says the poet, the remoteness of what is near (Ferne der Nähe).
So lernt ich traurig den verzicht:
Kein ding sei wo das wort gebricht.
“I bore this loss (Verzicht) with sad resignation: I learned that there are no things without words.”
Man is not the being who possesses language (τό ζῶον λόγον ἔχον). Language possesses him.
Language is the “painted parchment papering our cage,” said another poet in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire (line 114).
The poet’s silence (Verschwiegenheit) is the renunciation (Verzichtung) of a language right. The poet accepts conservatorship over language by bowing to Being’s superior claim. Being is Verweigerung, refusal, and concession, Gewähren.
— Thinking and the Art of Painting
Holzwege are comparable to the brushstrokes applied to a canvas. The “end-in-view” of the painting is altered by the painter’s progress along his road.
As the end-in-view withdraws, this withdrawal must be compensated for. Every brushstroke is merely one in a series of adjustments calculated to keep in focus the retreating end-in-view.
Every brushstroke is, so to speak, “mortal.” After a promising beginning it reaches a “dead end.” The painting outlives its manifold petits morts. It repeatedly “comes to an end” and is reborn in a new brush stroke. Each “dead end” alters the topography of the “problem” the painting undertakes to solve.
On the far side of every “dead end,” and inaccessible from its point of view, is a horizon which opens upon the unforeseen. The unforeseen is the painter’s friend and the goal of his painting. The painter’s goal is the impossible task of making the unforeseen as such — that which must remain invisible — visible.
Invisibility sits for its portrait. The totality of exhausted brushstrokes model the contours of the invisible’s physiognomy in a landscape, a still life, or a face. Style elevates failure to the level of technique.
The art of painting is concealment. A good painting presents itself as concealing something immeasurable beneath its painted surface.
The gaps between brushstrokes are avenues of escape. Being (which is death) preserves itself as Being by vanishing into the ground. Being haunts the interstices between brushstrokes and gives life to the painting’s surfaces.
— The Structure of Behavior
Neither Greeks nor Romans “believed” in gods, a peculiarly modern way of showing them contempt. (“I believe in you,” says the greedy show-biz manager to his cash-cow client.)
The Greek νομίζω τούς θεούς means to practice religion, not entertain a belief. Νομίζω τόν βίον means to practice a livelihood.
Religion is cultivation of the gods. It withers without atheism. Atheism is “negative theology.” Negativity is strength. Nothing is the “power” of Being.
A belief is a representation (Vorstellung). A belief is a propositional attitude. Gods are not representations.
Gods are supremely indifferent to human attitudes. Human beings are at liberty to take whatever attitude they wish, propositional or otherwise, towards gods, flowers, beasts and men.
Gods, like mortals, are a constituent element in the structure of Being. The Fourfold of Ereignis (the “event” of Being) is a Spiegel-Spiel, “mirror play,” of earth, sky, gods and mortals, Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 52.
Being and Dasein are poles of a single “pure vibration” — each is a reverberation of the other. See note 31. Gods, as well as mortals, are “fixed and secured” in Being by the word. See note 11.
Heidegger used the formula “God and the gods” in Letter On Humanism and elsewhere: God and mortals are “the same” — i.e. form a structural unity which casts “God” in the plural.
Being is original, strange, rare (Seyn…das Einzigste und Seltenste, Beiträge, §256, Der letzte Gott, page 414) and as such is the haunt of the “last god”: the perennially deferred but tantalizingly imminent possibility of Being, unapproachable and inviolate, which plays out historically in an unstinting wealth of gods.
Being, das Einzigste und Seltenste (“the rarest and most singular”) occupies the apex of a scale of relative singularities which well from a fissure in Being (Zerklüftung, ibid, pg. 244). Being is not absolute. It needs (uses, enjoys) gods. Being is the procreative fountainhead of gods, i.e., new singularities.
New gods, infused with the radiance of the possible, preside over new inaugurations of the “same.” Even mortals are infected with godhead.
As Merleau-Ponty says in Phénoménologie de la Perception, Comme les dieux du polythéisme, j’ai à compter avec d’autres dieux. “Like the gods of polytheism, I have to reckon with other gods,” Gallimard, 1945, page 429.
For the term “structural unity” — as in “the structural unity of gods and mortals”—compare Merleau-Ponty’s 1942 book La structure du comportment (The Structure of Behavior, trans. Alden Fisher, Duquesne Univ. Press, 1983). Structure=Gestalt, which Merleau-Ponty defined tentatively after Kohler as a whole whose parts “dynamically know one another.” With “structure” and Gestalt, Merleau-Ponty knowingly set out on a path already trod by Heidegger, but from a starting point even more heavily entangled in the language of psychologism and metaphysics. (He made desultory but historic progress toward the same goal as Heidegger with later striking idioms like “flesh” and “chiasma.”) Heidegger arrived at Ereignis by way of Seinsgeschichte: the history of metaphysics as the forgetfulness of Being. Gestalt, an old perfect form of the verb stellen, to posit — compare vor–stellen, representation — becomes Ge–stell, enframing, in Heidegger’s genealogy of late-modern metaphysics. (Cf. “Die Frage nach der Technik,” Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil I.)
The work of both these philosophers bears only a superficial resemblance to Jacques Derrida’s derivative, so-called “postmodern” treatment of language as instrument and embodiment of modern metaphysics, l’écriture. With its comme-tu-veux political affiliations, the deconstruction of texts (l’écriture) is unconditioned (unbe–dingt) and a mecca for academic careerists. (Contrast Foucault’s “history of the present,” an inquiry grounded, like Merleau-Ponty’s, in what Heidegger called “attunement,” the life of the senses, the beginning of all knowledge according to the Greeks.)
— Overcoming Metaphysics
Language by its nature is ambiguous. The necessity of using metaphysical language to overcome metaphysics follows from the historical nature of thinking. With the essential help of poets as well as thinkers, Being as metaphysics brings about its own desuetude or obsolescence by a peculiar torsion — Verwindung, twisting free (Merleau-Ponty called it an “escape,” fuite)—by means of which Being extricates itself from itself and covers (umrankt) itself with tendrils the way ivy covers a venerable ruin. See “Über ‘Die Linie’ (Zur Seinsfrage): Beitrag zur Festschrift für Ernst Jünger,” Wegmarken, page 416. Verwinden means “to overcome” in the sense of overcoming pain through induration (Bremer und Freiburger Vorträge, page 69). Heidegger quotes Georg Trakl’s poem “Ein Winterabend”: Schmerz versteinerte die Schwelle, “pain turned the threshold to stone.” Pain turns the restless errancy (Irrtum) and urgency of metaphysics (the constant sting of the drover’s prod) — what Trakl in the poem calls die Wanderschaft — into the stone threshold of a humble dwelling in the snow, where bread and wine glimmer in the clear light of a hearth fire (da erglänzt in reiner Helle/auf dem Tische Brot und Wein; see Heidegger’s discussion of Trakl’s poem in “Die Sprache,” Unterwegs zur Sprache, pages 11–33.)
It is in these senses, and not as überwinden, “to leave behind,” that Heidegger speaks of overcoming metaphysics — making metaphysics a habitable dwelling. History as the withdrawal of being unravels twisted threads of meaning and presents them side by side as Holzwege, fire roads, paths of thinking. See the epigraph to Heidegger’s 1950 collection of essays, Holzwege. History is field-of-view from an embedded perspective, that of the thinker.
Heidegger used a characteristic term for this change (μεταβολή, Umschlag) from a metaphysical to a non-metaphysical language: Kehre, “turning.” (See “Die Kehre,” Bremer und Freiburger Vorträge.) Here as elsewhere, thought wheels or pivots from a “first” of some kind (einem Ersten) to a “second” (einen Anderen) — in this case from a first language to a second language. Being, in all cases, wheels around into itself out of its Entzug, its withdrawal from itself, provided thinking succeeds in laying the conditions for such a reversal. Compare the first and second beginnings. “The turning lies with mortals,” says Hölderlin in “Mnemosyne” (also wendet es sich mit diesen) since mortals “reach sooner into the abyss” and are therefore instrumental to motion and change (see below, das Grunden). Heidegger’s prodigious terminological fluency presents, as always, insurmountable problems for logic, which struggles unsuccessfully here to reconcile the continuity of history with its “epochal” disruptions (pauses, ἐποχαί). Compare the sorites paradox and the semantic problem of “vagueness,” note 31. Quantity and quality are the “same,” says Hegel, and therefore irresolvably ambiguous. Historical epochs divide up a universal “quality” of time among themselves and individualize it.
— Atoms and the Void
The propositional attitude (Vor-stellung) of belief, so dear to Anglophone philosophers, is interposed between gods and mortals thanks to the withdrawal of Being (Being presences as withdrawal, see note 12) and is symptomatic of the diminished presence of gods in the original Fourfold (earth, sky, mortals and divinities) of Ereignis. (Heidegger’s Fourfold corresponds roughly to Aristotle’s four causes, each of which has its own temporal signature. God signifies finality or “final cause.” Compare Merleau-Ponty’s “chiasma” or X-configuration. The thing is the center of a fourfold temporal reverberation which constitutes its “flesh” or dimensionality. The arms of the cross are occupied by complementary opposing presences.) Nietzsche’s “God is dead” is both a historical truth — history means the history of the death of God—and an attribute of God’s essence. Cf. Finnegans Wake. (Mortals, for their part, leave everything unfinished, even their own death — τέλος, end.) In Lucretius’s great poem De rerum natura, the retreat of the gods is accompanied by a slow disintegration of beings into virtual atoms in an inconceivable void. In De rerum natura, Democratean atoms (semina) are herded (acta) through the void by Venus, desire, a semi-divine principle of motion. On the ideal character of Democritus’s atoms (ἄ–τομοι, indivisibles) see Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, part one, chapter one. On their reputed indestructibility see Aristotle, Περὶ γενέσεως καὶ φθορᾶς (On Coming to Be and Passing Away) 317a 2–13.
Aristotle saw prophetically that the atom and void as understood by Democritus were impervious to mathematics — i.e. μάθησις, a priori human thought (cf. Kant’s transcendental faculties) — and were therefore an impediment to the future development of science, ἐπιστήμη. (See “The Poetic Reinvention of Science In Lucretius’s De rerum natura,” Stephen Hoffman, https://www.academia.edu/12732100/.) In this respect “atom” and “void” carry the imprint of Being as Verborgenheit, concealment. For apriority as destiny, Geschick, the unforeseen coherence of all three dimensions of time in Ereignis, see note 31. For time as synopsis/syndosis in Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic, see Heidegger’s Phänomenologishe Interpretation von Kants Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, pages 134–135. In Being and Time, Heidegger calls the synoptic coherence of past, present and future (later situated in Ereignis)
Ge–wissen, conscience. (Cf. Bewußtsein. Modern subjectivity as self-consciousness, Selbstbewußtsein— subject of the propositional attitudes — is selbstbewußt, full of itself, self-important.)
Conscience calls Dasein to eigenstes Schuldigsein, authentic selfhood (Eigentlichkeit) as “own-most” (eigenstes) indebtedness to ground. Eigenstes or “ownmost” implies that our radical indebtedness to Being constitutes our authentic self only in so far as it is “most owned-up to” — confessed—and hence taken possession of. Authentic selfhood is an Unterwegsein — an orientation or “being-on-the-way-toward”— as implied by the superlative character of the word “most.” In Sein und Zeit Heidegger characterized the correct comportment toward conscience and its call Gewissenhabenwollen, “wanting to have a conscience,” §58. Wollen or “wanting” bespeaks a lack and a need, Not. Cf. Notwendigkeit, necessity.
— Values Talk
In shattering the traditional metaphysical concept of the will with his dynamic concept of Being as willing-to-will (having nothing but scorn for Schopenhauer’s retrograde hypostatization of the will in World As Will and Representation) Nietzsche inaugurated values talk and brought about the final triumph of metaphysics as forgetfulness of Being. As the will to will, Being “always already” wills its own forgetfulness, clearing an empty space (as nihilism) for its own possible second beginning. (The first and second beginnings are the “same.”) In the will to will, the traditional concepts of will and selfhood disappear but nevertheless leave the dominance of Gleichheit, lifeless identity, intact, since Being temporalizes — that is, wills itself — as Gleichheit. (The will to will, as the Being of beings, is not a “will” because it lacks self-identity. It can be thought of as will-to-identity.) Restless industry (“art” as τέχνη) launches improved updates of itself with stagnant regularity, driven by Leibniz’s principle of sufficient ground.
Cf. Heidegger’s 1955/56 lecture course Der Satz vom Grund. The principle of sufficient ground is the principle of art, considered metaphysically as surplus. Nietzsche’s self is not a “true” self but a receding series of replicas, Gleichnisse— similes, parables, “likenesses.” In Nietzsche’s Nachlaß, art is a “higher value” than truth, considered metaphysically as correspondence, richtigkeit, Latin rectitudo.
Contrast Hegel’s concept of Being as will-to-truth. In Hegel’s pre-Nietzschean dynamic metaphysics of the will, Being wills itself as truth — Logos — and is therefore a “true” self. For Nietzsche’s metaphysical non-correspondence theory of truth as justification, Gerechtigkeit, based on the will to will, see Holzwege, page 247: “Als…Wahrheit ist [Gerechtigkeit] die Metaphysik selbst in ihrer neuzeitlichen Vollendung.” Thanks to Nietzsche, early-modern Vor–stellen (Richtigkeit) became Ge–stell (Ge–rechtigkeit) for legions of thinkers for whom he is only a name.
— Mortals and the Abyss
In the absence of ground, all beings disappear into the abyss (Abgrund; cf. Nietzsche’s toller Mensch: “ How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon?”). Even what is pitiful about the migratory (das Irrende) is blotted out in its refugee misery in the absence of homeland (Heimat). Everything evaporates in a restless universal self-migration. (Cf. Ernst Jünger’s essay “Totale Mobilmachung”: total mobilization or enlistment of men and materiel; “activation of potentiality” in the dynamo of eternal recurrence; loss of bearings; mobility as paralysis. Jünger’s essay is discussed in Wegmarken, pages 385–426.)
Being as will to will can’t summon up a ground by force of will, even if it wills the ground as “Abgrund” — the absence of a ground. Grund and Abgrund are the “same,” not das Gleiche. See note 30. Mortals (die Sterblichen) are ab-grundlich, abyss-al. Es reichen die Sterblichen eh an den Abgrund, says Hölderlin in “Mnemosyne” — mortals “reach sooner into the abyss” than gods. If God in the Fourfold signifies finality — End–lichkeit, finitude — mortals in the Fourfold signify Unendlichkeit: infinitude, non-being, “unfinishedness,” Unerledigtsein, and correspond to Aristotle’s “efficient” causality.
Mortals are aus–stehend, an outstanding debt owed to Being, unerledigt. Cf. Schuldigsein. Mortals, as κινεῖν, movement, are always already in motion towards (i.e. are always already outstripped by) Being and as such are the “cause,” αἴτιον, of their own non-being. They bear responsibility, they are to “blame” for their own motion — sie haben Schuld an ihre eigene Bewegung — as κινοῦντες τοῦ κινουμένου, moved movers. (Cf. will to will.) God as finite stands surety for mortals as infinite.
Since Grund and Abgrund are the “same,” mortals’ indebtedness to Being as ground plays a key role in das Grunden (the grounding) of Being. The “unfinishedness” of mortals is an index of their structural connection with earth, “materiality,” pregnancy (Aristotle’s “material cause”). Earth is die Verschlossene, the stubbornly unforthcoming: Unfreundlich ist und schwer zu gewinnen die Verschlossene…die Mutter, “the shut-off…the mother, is unfriendly and difficult to settle, dwell upon (gewinnen)” for her sons, the Rhine and Danube, says Hölderlin in his hymn “Die Wanderung.” As confidants of the abyss, mortals are thrown into and keep open the “rift between earth and world”—the grounding strife opened up by a work of the hand. See “The Origin of a Work of Art” (“Ursprung des Kunstwerkes,” Holzwege).
Heidegger’s Eigen–tlichkeit (authenticity) is only thinkable on the basis of Er–eignis by way of what Heidegger called Eigen–tum, “self-ness,” Beiträge, page 263. Likewise with other so-called “early-Heidegger” concepts like Sein-zum-Tode (Sterben) etc. Designating Sein und Zeit as “early Heidegger” ignores Heidegger’s decade’s-worth of close-reading lectures on Aristotle in Greek.
Being is “event-like,” ereignis–haft, a thought inaccessible to a thinking which begins from the Latin ex–venire.
The German adjective eigen, “own” — related to Ereignis, event, and sich ereignen, occur — comes from the Old High German word eigan, which means to own something, take possession of it, seize it. Sich etwas zu eigen machen means to make something one’s own. Compare the English “own up,” own to a mistake, own a failed policy, take responsibility for something (sich verantwortlich sein für etwas). Zueignet means “appropriated.” Eigentum is the German word for property. (Compare Greek οὐσία, homestead, accumulated wealth, χρήματα. In an influential passage from Phenomenologie des Geistes — V. Gewißheit und Wahrheit der Vernunft, c. Gesetzprüfende Vernunft — Hegel discusses some of the paradoxes — for Hegel not true paradoxes but merely constitutive contradictions — inherent in the concept of Eigentum, private property. These paradoxes no doubt have some bearing on Heidegger’s use of the word Ereignis. See Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. J.N. Findlay, Oxford, 1977, pages 256–259.)
The word “own” bears an ancient, puzzling mirror relationship to its obverse meaning “owe,” a relationship which holds both in Old English (agan, own) and Old High German (eigan). Both words mean to own and also to owe, as in I “own” — we would say I “have” — to pay a debt. (We still say I “ought” — from “owe,” own — to pay it.) The auxiliary sense of obligation expressed by the Old English word agan and the Old High German word eigan later came to be expressed in English by the word “should,” shall, and in German by the word sollen. At the same time both languages were supplemented by other auxiliaries like “have,” “could” and “will,” each with different temporal connotations.
Both “should” and sollen derive from the Proto-Germanic *skal. Schuld is an abstract noun formed from sollen. Schuld can mean debt, blame, responsibility, “guilt.” The word “guilt” (both leading English translations of Being and Time translate Schuldigsein as “being guilty”) is from the Germanic root of the Old English geldan, to pay: agan to geldanne: “I own (i.e. I have) to pay.”
Greek αἴτιον (cf. Aristotle’s four “causes”) is not related to the modern German word for cause, Ursache, “Ur”-thing, prima causa. (Causa=Fall, that which is the case. Cf. facticity, Fallen, verfallen.) Αἴτιον derives from Greek αἴτιος, which means to bear responsibility for something, German verschulden. To be “caused” means to be indebted, verschuldet, to something for one’s existence.
These are just a few of the threads in the tangled ball of yarn Heidegger began to gently tease apart in the densely packed section 58 of Being and Time, “Anrufverstehen und Schuld,” “Understanding the summons (of conscience) and guilt.” The word affiliations as found in an etymological dictionary are only reticent clues in the sort of dedicated Easter egg hunt Heidegger called Seinsgeschichte. What makes it supremely difficult is that each of these words is only a mirror image — reflected in different depths of the receding past — of all the others. Finding the right Grundstimmung, fundamental attunement, is the key to their proper Auslegung, laying out. See “Logos (Heraklit, Fragment 50)” Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil III.
— Nihilism and Ethics
In Einführung in die Metaphysik, section 57, Heidegger showed how one philosophical interpretation of Being which took its cue from the word “own” (take, conceive, νοεῖν, vernehmen) and another later one which took its cue from the word “owe” (should, shall, πράσσειν, Sollen) led to a catastrophic split in philosophy between “values” philosophy (i.e. ethics) and a philosophy of truth (logic, truth as Richtigkeit, correspondence) — a fissure both logic and ethics are powerless to heal. Philosophy as ethics is a symptom of nihilism.
Normative necessity is counterfeit necessity, the foster child of ethics. Logical necessity and physical necessity are its orphaned kin. Norms (self-invented values) are embodiments of das Man and creatures of Nietzsche’s metaphysics. True necessity is historical necessity. Historical necessity — Heidegger’s Notwendigkeit — having been thrown (geworfen) out of sync with itself and come face to face with itself as “world,” wends its way half-blindly through the world toward a need (Not) which it can neither explain or renounce. Das Dasein ist die Wendung in die Not, Wegmarken, pages 197–198.
— Errancy (Irrtum)
Necessity is errancy (Irrtum) a wandering in the dark. “Historical necessity” means the necessity of error and das Bösartige des Grimmes (cf. Greek ὕβρις, “evil”). Earth is the Irrstern, the wandering or vagabond star, i.e. planet, from the Greek πλανᾶσθαι, to wander, stray. Πλάνης, roving, also applies to day laborers, men of low social class who wander in search of seasonal employment. Compare Irish travelers. The weak or distracted mind wanders, the wealthy mind is a hereditary estate (or a royal demesne in Ithaca) which plants flourishing roots and thrives on tribute from vassals and leaseholders. “Love’s bitter mystery” leads “all disheveled wandering stars” toward a destination shrouded in mystery, Geheimnis, the concealed starting point of all our itineraries, in a poem by W.B. Yeats (“Who goes with Fergus?”) murmured in snatches by a drunken Stephen Dedalus as he lies curled in the street at the end of the Nighttown chapter in Ulysses, under the watchful protection of the inescapable Bloom.
— Ereignis as Indebtedness and Luck
Since necessity is geworfen, thrown, it is rooted, like Dasein itself, in Dasein’s past. Möglichkeit, possibility — from mögen, may, to foster, cherish, grant or bestow — corresponds to the future as Entwurf. See note 31. Necessity is wedded to possibility in and as the “event” (Ereignis) Being in its second beginning.
With the help of new inaugurating attunements like Erschrecken and Scheu, the shudder or shiver (Schauer) of alarm and diffidence (“cold oils…chilling [the] blood”) which complement and amplify the Erstaunen (wonder) of the first beginning. See Beiträge, pg. 14.
Das Gleiche (the formally identical) presupposes das Identische (the numerically identical). Das Identische is what remains of das Selbe (dasselbe, selfsame) after das Selbe has been emptied of Being and absolutized — i.e. absolved of all self-relation and distance. Cf. Heidegger’s 1957 lecture “Der Satz der Identität” (“The Law of Identity”) in Identität und Differenz, pgs. 33–50. This lecture envisions a “leap” (Satz) from identity back into the original plenitude of Selbigkeit (self-sameness).
Matter, Music and the Quantitative Nature of Verse:
A Reflection on Chromatic Possibility in Joyce and Heidegger
Joyce saw the world as chromatically-textured, shimmering or chatoyant — iridescent with possibilities — not through the bleak filtering haze of “blind chance” and its fraternal twin, grim necessity. Chance (the essence of language) in Ulysses is providential, not blind. (Astonishment always encounters what is most familiar to it: itself.) Chance is a transparent medium that refracts light into colors of surprise depending on whether it is dense with possibility or rare. Nabokov called this “rainbow chance.”
Providential chance guides the pilgrim mind through the world’s avenues of discovery by selectively lighting up objects in their original livery of newly-washed colors — colors which over time become soiled and assume the somber status and drab neutrality of conventional placeholders. (Not just “exciting” colors on the red end of the spectrum but cool, restrained blue ones: “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit,” “Ithaca,” chapter 17.)
Colors denote promise. They beckon. Chance, like light in Merleau-Ponty, is “intelligent” and guides perception: l’éclairage conduit mon regard et me fait voir l’objet, c’est donc qu’…il sait et voit l’objet, “lighting conducts my vision and makes me see the object, that is to say, it already understands and sees,” Phenomenologie de la Perception, Gallimard, Paris, 1945, pg. 375. Color and light are modes of spatiality, i.e. ways of “making space,” carving it out of Being and negotiating its articulated hollows. (Color and space are related as quality and quantity and are therefore the “same,” see below, this note, Hegel.)
What Heidegger called Ortschaft, locality, appears in the guise of color in Merleau-Ponty’s essay on painting, L’oeil et L’esprit, Gallimard, 1964, IV. Height, width and depth are abstracted from a localité globale , page 41 — “a voluminosity we express in a word when we say that a thing is there” (une voluminosité qu’on exprime d’un mot en disant qu’une chose est là). It lies dormant, a “sleeping power” ([une] puissance dormante, page 43) in what Heidegger called the thinghood of the thing (Dingheit des Dinges, “Das Ding,” Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 46; das Ding dingt, the thing things, in dem Ereignis des Gevierts, in the appropriation of the fourfold, ibid).
All aspects of the visible world — character, color, place — are present in this voluminosity simultaneously, before analysis, tout…à la fois, all at once, in concentrated readiness, like the flower in the bud. Painters awaken its “secret of preexistence” (secret de préexistence) and summon it, as “art,” on canvas. Colors on a Klee canvas seem to “breathe from a primordial ground,” exhal[er]…d’un fond primordial.
The problem of space and of its colored contents are the same problem, page 43: “[c]’est donc ensemble qu’il faut chercher l’espace et le contenu….Le problème [de l’espace]…est aussi bien celui de la couleur.”
Being as absence and possibility deploys itself as a spectrum of colors across a field of simultaneous presence that yawns in Ereignis (see below). Luck gushes like honey from fissures and chance juxtapositions in the text of Ulysses, where fictional characters encounter historical ones, locations and events and irrevocably alter them. Chance in all its variegations figures prominently in the optics of Ulysses.
Heidegger thought of possibility in terms of harmonic oscillation (Erschwingung) and reverberation (Gegenschwung) like an electron field or a metrical pattern with open-ended variations.
Das Sagen des Dichters…[bringt] das Ganze der Welt in den Rhythmus der dichtenden Sprache. “The words of the poet bring the entirety of Being into the rhythm of poetic speech,” “Rimbaud Vivant,” Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens, pg. 226.
Rhythm is Verhältnis, language, ibid, pg. 227. See note 11. Melody and meaning arise out of ellipsis and absence, the self-enveloping beat of temporalization and presence. In Heidegger the abyss, Abgrund, is “pregnant” with Being, Grund.
(Being as Abgrund is Hesiod’s “chaos,” space, the most primordial of the divinities. Cf. “Commentary on Line 116 of Hesiod’s Theogony,” Stephen Hoffman, academia.edu/33405383/.)
Being is already present in the missed heartbeat of temporalization or Gegenwärtigung: the hollow of silence tucked into the pregnant interval between vocalizations. In this sense the “quality” of language — both its music and, thanks to its music, its meaning — is already contained in its “quantity,” or parataxis. (See above, note 28, “The Two Axes of Being.”) Parataxis is the “event of language.”
Parataxis means a “placing side by side.” Language places the world side by side with itself as if in a mirror and so engenders the first (incomparable) magnitude, or quantity.
Syntax is “qualified parataxis.” Grammatical rules are unrepeatable events of language “qualified” — collected and sorted into sets. Each new event of language modifies the accepted meaning of the rule.
Lexical meanings are the inaudible ground-note of Being broken up into the resonant coin of language and assigned to dictionaries.
Nietzsche explored this connection between quantity and quality in his early philological studies of the quantity of Greek verse. See Babette Babich, “The Science of Words or Philology: Music in The Birth of Tragedy and the Alchemy of Love in The Gay Science,” Revista di estetica, Tiziana Andina, ed., 28, XLV, Rosenberg & Sellier, Turin, 2005, pp. 47–78; academia.edu/543074.
The uncanny “sameness” of quantity and quality, which already preoccupied Kant — who waffled over the relation between the two transcendental faculties (logical and aesthetic) — also exercised Hegel, who dissolved both in the Idea: “Quality is self-referring externality [i.e. quantity],” The Science of Logic, 2010, Cambridge University Press, page 291.
An accent is a qualitative inflection. In Shakespeare’s time, verse accents were understood to be modulations of the length (quantity) of a repeated time interval: “You find not the apostraphas [unmarked elisions in a text] and so miss the accent,” Love’s Labors Lost, Act IV, ii, 115.
The quantitative nature of accent and stress, well known to Greek grammarians, was largely forgotten by the end of the nineteenth century, when the science of versification became a stale meditation on the crude theme of “stress.” Hence the difficulties facing a modern student of Greek poetry: all verse, both English and Greek, has become an unintelligible cypher for modern man — a heap of fancy orthography.
True verse rediscovers the original essence of language. Language presents: teases, arouses, withholds. Love poetry is not a sub-genre of poetry but poetry at its source. Petrarch dedicated his love poems to poetry (Laura, Italian laura, laurels) in the same way Marvell carved the name of a tree into its own bark.
Quantity — not “stress” — is the defining feature of verse: English, Italian, German, French, Latin, Greek. Versification is timing. Quantity is the defining feature of verse because it is the defining feature of language, which is dichterisch, “poetic”: it poetizes the truth of Being.
Creative fiction is “true fiction.” Truth is fictive. That cypher standing before you in the flesh is at once your closest friend and keenest adversary: your living contradiction, your image in a mirror. Both you and he would dissolve in the mirror’s depths if you did not both draw life from the unseen proximity of fictional characters. The mirror’s recesses are stocked with our provisional — auxiliary, confederate — selves. But how is the self-presentation of Being compatible with its poeticization through language?
Language and Being are the “same.” But in what sense of “sameness”? Every problem of thought leads back to the same mystery of the mirror (Lichtung) — a mystery locked up in the present, which opens up time and again and reverberates in its bottomless depths in response to our questions. The rhythm of verse is the rhythm of question and response.
The mystery hidden in the depths of the Lichtung, or clearing, was already crystallized in Heidegger’s definition of phenomenology in Being and Time: phenomenology means “letting something be seen which shows itself in itself” (Sein und Zeit page 34). In the compound word phenomenology, φαινόμενον and λόγος seem to bow to each other like courtly gentlemen, losing their identities in a flickering exchange of functions and deferential courtesies.
A punctilious air of absurd pomp hangs about this portly definition. It shimmers like a mirror in its crooked, many-cornered depths. Being and Time—successfully submitted in 1927 in pursuit of a Marburg professorship—is full of such parody precisionism. Its Husserlian language is full of trap doors, hinges and folding stage scenery, where the fastidious niceness of the closeted thinker drops the reader into unexpected wildernesses of doubt and disorientation, the windswept poetry of Being.
Melody and meaning spring from the inky pool of the syncope, or diastole: the pause between heartbeats when a rift opens in time and we are thrown open to the thing, the first glimpse of which lights up a chromatic register of confused emotions — surprise, joy and terror — as we face ourselves across an abyss. Heidegger lambasted commentators deaf to the “tone” (Ton) of a philosopher’s speech, in which its meaning already sings. (Meaning is metaphysics for truth as unconcealment.)
— Matter and Meaning. Propositions about Matter Culled from Various Places in Heidegger.
In this section I hazard a rather scattershot approach to the question of matter in Heidegger’s work, references to which—disguised as different words—are dispersed widely throughout his writings in a variety of contexts. Think of it as a potpourri of recollections of passages circling in loose order around the theme of matter.
Generally speaking, matter for Heidegger is the dark heart of motion, the gravitational center around which all different types of motion, or Being, cohere: Sterben (Being-mortal) Dingen (Being-a-thing) Welten (Being-world) etc. Being as das Nichts (nothing) nichtet. Even Being itself “moves” in a sense—waltet, währt, west: prevails or “essences,” for want of a better translation.
Thus matter is in some sense a phase or aspect of motion. But note carefully that Heidegger never coined a verb to go with “earth”: the earth (Erde) never “earths” (erdet). Earth betokens rest and stability.
In fact, so focused was Heidegger on the music, poetry and other dark magic concealed in the ancient word “earth” that he was loath to use the lumpen word “matter” (Materie) at all.
The word “matter probably hearkens back to the Latin word mater, mother, and matrix, womb. Aristotle’s matter (ὕλη) by contrast, means either wood as a building material or more likely wood in the sense of “forest.” Heidegger resurrected an archaic hunting term, Dickung, thicket, in order to juxtapose it with the term Lichtung, a clearing in a forest. (Zur Sache des Denkens, page 80.) One stands to the other roughly as “matter” to “form.”
Matter is die Sache selbst, the thing itself. We can think of Materie in Heidegger as “tame matter” and earth as “wild matter.” The quality of matter cannot be detached from its quantity or essential “downwardness.” Earth expresses this.
The importance of earth in Heidegger’s works as the phenomenological Sache selbst parallels his robust, distinctly unpostmodern understanding of truth as unconcealment. It awakens chronic suspicions of “earth-mysticism” and Blut-und-Boden politics in sleeping guard dogs of the left.
Heidegger dwelt thoughtfully upon the unassertive Sophoclean politics of the tragedy of tragedies, Antigone, in which earth plays a foundational role. See “Auslegung des ersten Chorliedes aus der ‘Antigone, ’ Einführung in die Metaphysik, pages 153–173.
The πόλις is where work opens up a world and sets it back into the earth (eröffnet eine Welt und stellt diese zurück auf die Erde). Earth so worked becomes native ground (heimatlicher Grund). “Urprung des Kunstwerkes,” Holzwege, page 28. See also “Bauen, Wohnen, Denken,” Vorträge und Aufsätze, pages 145ff.
Like a world (cf. Greek αἰών) a πόλις—which Heidegger winkingly derived from πολεύω, versari—is a “pole” or center of perspective around which things turn.
Organic and demonstrable language affiliations breed incessantly in language, eluding etymological—sprachgeschichtlich—verification. See note 28, “Etymology of the Present.” Scientific etymology dissolves, idealizes and reconstructs living etymology, which is “folk etymology.” Language is volkisch. Meaning evaporates in a linguistic “genome project” and has to resupplied by the researcher’s meager “folk” intuitions.
Thinking executes a leap from Historie into Geschichte. Albeit a necessary prelude to thinking, science “doesn’t think,” said Heidegger. What happens now—sich ereignet—instates the past in its truth. Evolutionary science is a building scaffold that must be removed to reveal the truth. The same goes twice for grammar. Logic conceals λόγος, physics conceals φύσις, etc.
A πόλις is a center of motion, apprehension and mutual commerce, not a container bounded by a city limit in which things aggregate. The existence of multiple “poles”—centers of the universe—plagues metaphysics like the analogous problem of the existence of multiple “I”’s.
Heidegger’s ereignishaft political pluralism is a theme for another paper. View contemporary metaphysics as perfected totalitarianism: totalitarianism in its “humane,” quasi-benign, 21st-century global-commercial consummation, “Die Frage nach der Technik,” Vorträge und Aufsätze, pages 5ff.
On Amerikanismus, or “gigantism,” reluctant precursor of murderous Bolshevism, or “big-ism,” see Heidegger’s 1942 lecture course, Hölderlins Hymne “Der Ister,” page 86.
Heidegger coined the word “gigantic”—das Riesige—to describe a mode of Being which is not totality-in-itself but, rather, a way in which self-concealing Being presents itself as totality. Compare the set-theoretical “totality of possible worlds.” Being itself is horizon and limitation — anything but totality.
“Giganticness” is the characteristic way totality appears to the senses. It is distinct from the sublime, divine emanations of the godhead, etc. “Die Zeit des Weltbildes,” Holzwege, page 95.
American political refugee Vladimir Nabokov, despite his assurance that “Europe…is over ” in “Lines Written in Oregon,” 1953, retired in 1961 on the proceeds from his best-seller Lolita to the resort town of Montreux in the self-concealing folds of the Swiss Alps. Irish refugee James Joyce fled east—to Paris, Zurich and Trieste, nestled in the quiet armpit of the Adriatic.
Heidegger never abandoned his mountainous Black Forest retreat at Todtnauberg. Three acutely sensitive writer-thinkers shared an instinctive mistrust of the innocent but bone-numbing immensity of the New World: a world mute and barren of history and restraint, ripe for spoliation by modern European dynamism.
Totalitarianism, classic or contemporary, can’t be explained since, as the metaphysical truth of beings, it arrogates all possible modes of explanation. It can only be thought. Thinking exists only in and as the question of Being. The question of Being awakens the voice of conscience — Joyce’s “shout in the street” (see below).
Being cloaks itself in metaphysics, a light-extinguishing totality which becomes more light-devouring with each new incarnation. Confident in its swelling reach, each new historical incarnation of metaphysics indulges in fewer ostentatious displays of force. All its annihilations occur in darkness, the natural element of nihil, or nothing, whose spreading power Nietzsche’s acute senses first detected.
No resistance to totalitarianism is possible. On the contrary, all our actions contribute to it. “Activism” is totalitarianism’s foremost tool, since the activist’s vaunted actions are the puppets of ideas rather than expressions of the truth of Being.
But Being uses [braucht] the essence of man as thinker to reveal itself in its truth (see Holzwege, page 367). The truth of Being and the cloak in which it conceals itself — the metaphysical truth of beings as “totality” — are the “same.” Therefore metaphysics is our lifeline to Rettung, saving. See “Die Frage nach der Technik,” Vorträge und Aufsätze.
For thinking as thanking see “Giving Thanks: Heidegger’s Pathway into Thinking,” by Justin Richards, this magazine, November 17, 2017, epochemagazine.org/c3b632a9dac3.
Thinking is thanking because “the question that we ourselves are,” in Merleau-Ponty’s words—i.e., the question of Being—is another word for Schuldigsein, being-indebted.
See Sein und Zeit, page 269. Greek δέομαι, to ask, is from δέω, to want, lack. A lack is a need, German Not. Compare the Not in not-wendig, “necessary.”
“I have the weather to thank for this cold,” we say. We have Being to thank for our Being, which consists of thinking, i.e., questioning—lacking—Being.
By answering the question that “we ourselves are,” Being supplies our eigenste—ownmost—need for self, rendering us thankful for the temporary forgiveness of a debt. For the term of our life we remain indebted to Being for self.
Eigenstes Schuldigsein is eigenstes Selbstseinkönnen, capability-of-self, ibid, and thus Eigentlichkeit—authenticity. Selfhood is Eigentum, the ordinary German word for “property.” See note 28, “Ereignis.”
What stands out clearly amid this Heideggeresque flurry of “eigen-” words is the idea that what is “ownmost” about the self is its non-being. Since what is most self-like about the self is its indebtedness to Being, it cannot even claim absolute non-being as one of its possessions.
Contrast Sartre’s pedestrian Being and Nothingness, where nothingness is a cartoon thought bubble to which the sovereign self retreats. (See Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et l’invisible, 1964, “Interrogation et dialectique.”)
In Heidegger’s brand of indebtedness (1927) “most” remains relative to “least,” and as a result the self finds its autocratic style cramped by an embarrassment of other selves—i.e. “other me’s,” alter egos.
(With astonishing but characteristic negligence, Merleau-Ponty failed to disclose that his entire critique of Sartre in Le visible et l’invisible was based on Heidegger. Merleau-Ponty’s grudging acknowledgement of Heidegger was epic.)
Being and nothing are the “same.” “Most” and “least” are like ever-expanding ripples radiating from the center of a dark pool, generated by nothing (Being) as it nichtet, “nothings.” We each surf the outermost ring of nothing, sharing the pool with many other ripples of Being—other “me’s” more firmly entrenched in the family circle of Being than our estranged, “ownmost” self.
All these selves together constitute das Man (the “they”). From the elusive, polyphonic heart of das Man comes the one, insistent voice that calls us to ourself: Joyce’s “shout in the street,” which is identical to conscience’s whisper in the heart—a fusion of near and far.
Despite its short-term remittance, life is a debt which must ultimately be repaid in the form of a death by die Sterbliche, mortals. Birth already conceals death as its inverted reflection. “Having lived” (perfect) is contingent upon payment of the debt. These are terms specified in the contract of Being.
There is no Being without end (τέλος). Life can’t be measured in coffee spoons, any more than motion is a summation of intervals (Zeno).
And after our term has expired? Both mortals and immortals are sustained in Being by the tenuous element of hope. “If the sun and moon did doubt they’d immediately go out,” said William Blake. (“I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies!”—J.M. Barrie.) Even Being quails before doubt.
“He who mocks the infant’s faith shall be mocked in age and death,” Blake—i.e., mocked by himself. If, at the end of our life, creditor perishes with debtor, “having lived” is nothing but mockery and illusion, a life never begun.
Mortals are “thrown” into the world, hurled from birth to death. Their “thrownness” (Geworfenheit) corresponds to the thing’s vibration and impetus (Erschwingung).
Both Geworfenheit and Erschwingung are counterparts of the same motion, and both are composed of the same three temporal moments: past, present and future.
Things are “swung” on the balance beam of fate (see note 28, “The Wager”). They reverberate (gegenschwingen) against Being in their brief passage from existence to nonexistence. Reverberation (Gegenschwung) balances vibration against vibration, maintaining the “system” in a state of equipoise.
(Heidegger proposed the antic word “paristem” to describe this belonging-together of eventualities, from παρίστημι, poised side-by-side, not yoked by a third term, a law, rule or relation, as in a system. Compare syntax and parataxis. For Being as λέγειν, the laying-gathering of what belongs together, see “Λόγος,” Vorträge und Aufsätze.)
Things have Schwung, momentum, weight. They are what physics calls “matter.” They form the center of a reverberating field of harmonic oscillations, like the electron field of modern physics.
All reverberation is a response to the question. Nothing breaks the silence of non-Being, absent the question of Being. The question trips the balance beam which holds Being and non-Being poised in equilibrium and plunges the thing into Being, which is motion.
Mortals do not first pose the question. They are first posed as the question by Being. Being puts mortal man to the question.
Matter in its visible form is most emblematically stone.
“Pain has turned the threshold to stone” (Georg Trakl). See “The Consolation of Oedipus,” note 28. Movement is Irrtum, errancy, Wanderschaft, pain.
Movement is full of contradiction and excitement, joy and grief (Freude und Trauer) the excitation of pain receptors. Motion is a Zenonian paradox, a contradiction of near and far (nahe und fern) not-yet and no-longer (noch nicht und nicht mehr).
Thinking, in the form of Trakl’s thought-poem Brot und Wein, transforms the pain of a winter Wanderschaft into the stone threshold of a cottage where emblematic bread and wine are seen glimmering through a doorway in the festive light of a warm hearth fire.
Thinking (questioning) is an unceasing struggle with pain. The thinker-poet is only ever brought to the threshold of rest.
The mood or attunement (Stimmung) which corresponds to stone’s heaviness is Schwermut, melancholy. Schwermut lends Schwergewicht — balance and stability — to Dasein.
Matter is movement balanced upon its center of gravity, pain transformed to melancholy. Stone is the consummate form of matter, on which all building and dwelling (Bauen, Wohnen) builds and dwells.
Compare Hegel’s philosophy of nature: after passing through a strife of gaseous and liquid states, matter crystallizes into stone, where explosive forces are held in readiness (noch nicht gesprengt, not yet exploded) in the form of metallic nitrates, sulphur and organic compounds for a renewed cycle of conflicts and reconciliations.
Compare also the planetary intelligence Saturn, the spirit of antiquity and gravity in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, “a living, self-remembering duration which repelled lighter intelligences from its [granite] structure.” “[All] that was strength in [Saturn] became sorrow as it entered [men].” The seven original planets are the seven “genders” (Lewis) of what Heidegger called “earth.”
Beings are Ereignisse, unforeseen eruptions of coherence which retrospectively establish for themselves a foreshadowing destiny (Geschick). Matter is understood in terms of mass-momentum (Schwung).
For Gewissen, “conscience,” the coherence of all three dimensions of time in Dasein as temporality, see Sein und Zeit, pages 359ff.
The twofold foundation of the philosophy of nature in 19th-century German Idealism, Licht und Schwere, heaviness and light, evolved into the continuous matter-energy field of 20th-century German physics. The so-called phenomenological field, with its interlinked components of noesis and noema — corresponding to Kant’s Transcendental Logic and Transcendental Aesthetic — is its subjective double: Dasein as field of presence. Cf. Lichtung, Verbergung.
“Ereignis [is] a reverberation of Being and Dasein in which each exists only as the pure vibration itself”:
Das Er-eignis [ist] jenen Gegenschwung von Seyn und Da-sein, in dem beide nicht vorhandene Pole sind, sondern die reine Erschwingung selbst, Beiträge, pages 286–287.
Ereignis begins as a “trembling of godhead” (Erzittern des Götterns) in a fissure in Being (Zerklüftung) ibid, pg. 244.
Nature is κίνησις, movement (Aristotle’s φύσις). Within the twofold schema of necessity and possibility, matter, or necessity, corresponds to the past (Schwung is a past participle) and form or possibility to the future.
The nothing (das Nichts) nichtet — “nothings” (“Was Ist Metaphysik,” Wegmarken, page 114.) Das Nichts is the “power” (German Kraft, Greek δύναμις) of Being.
Das Nichts “nothings”—dispenses (gewährt) possibilities of Being. (Als Nichten west, währt, gewährt das Nichts.) “Nothing” gives way to beings, makes room for beings. The future holds possibilities of Being in reserve and metes them out to the present as “form”—possible ways for things to be—in response to questions posed by our gaze and touch.
Form — the counterpart of matter — is nothing (das Nichts) measured out as possibilities. Form takes the configuration of a branching tree of possible futures. The tree of possibility is rooted in the present.
Aristotle’s thing of nature (τόδε τι) defined as “movement” (τό κινητόν) — with its impetus (Schwingen) mass (Schwung) and plotted trajectory or form — occupies three dimensions of time. These three dimensions constitute the field of presence — Dasein.
In the presence of the thing’s matter, Dasein is “thrown upon” the past (geworfen). In the presence of the thing’s form, it is “thrown ahead” (entworfen) projected into the future.
Geworfenheit (thrownness) and Entwurf (project, outline, design) interlock to form what Heidegger called “the throw,” der Wurf, the cast of the die: Dasein’s destiny and life course.
Der Wurf des Geworfenseins in die Welt wird zunächst vom Dasein nicht eigentlich aufgefangen:
“Dasein is thrown into the world, but this ‘throw’ is not immediately caught,” says Heidegger in Sein und Zeit, page 461.
The thing “things” in concert with the “worlding of world.” Thrown or “swung” before the thing, Dasein is thrown into the world. The thing’s impetus (Schwingen) carries over and becomes Dasein’s own.
Darkness and density are the primary observable qualities of matter. The past harbors the concealed riches of matter in its deepest depths. Heidegger called these depths “the earth.”
The future is the mirror image of the past. In its remotest depths it harbors das Nichts (the nothing) which corresponds to the earth’s Verschlossenheit, its opacity and resistance to disclosure. Das Nichts, the “power” (δύναμις) of Being, derives all its power from the past, the sovereign antiquity of the earth.
The future holds matter’s qualities in reserve, even as it triggers select arpeggios of sound and light that play out before our eyes in a flashing effusion of musical and chromatic values. See “Ursprung des Kunstwerkes,” Holzwege, pages 32ff.
The Lichtung breaks matter apart and releases its energy (ἐνεργεία). The Lichtung is ἐνεργεία itself. In the clearing (Lichtung) the qualities of matter become quantities — voids in the solid of Being where quality salutes itself across an interval of time/space (Zeitraum). Quantity is matter musing upon itself.
As quantity, matter is “dislocated” like a sore shoulder and brought before itself like the disjointed limb of a circus contortionist. Thanks to the power of nothing, qualities are “lit up” (gelichtet, cleared) and propagate their essence through the clearing (Lichtung). The graphite heart of matter leaves festive stains of light and music on the nothing.
— Possibility and Modal Mechanics
For both Heidegger and Joyce, possibility is anything but that inert logical monolith, “the set of all possible worlds.” “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” — just as there are more points on the continuum than the cardinality of any set — and “possible-worlds” analysis leaves them all out. Compare the storybook “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Gradations of the color spectrum and quantum field phenomena both raise problems of vagueness related to the sorites paradox. Hegel treated the sorites paradox under the operational category of measure. See Hegel, The Science of Logic, edited and translated by George Di Giovanni, 2010, Cambridge University Press; Book I, section II, chapter 1, specific quantity; page 291.
Quantity and quality are relative. “[Q]uantum…as self-referring externality, is itself quality,” pg. 288. Therefore objects change their properties when they change their position.
Caught up in this relativity, measurement loses itself in what it measures. Supervaluation, contextualism, etc., are really long-sought theories of the relativity of language. So-called vagueness is no more an exclusively semantic property than quantum indeterminacy.
Being is external, παρά, to itself as language, δόξα. It is παρά–δοξον, “self-referring externality.” The logical mind is constitutionally incapable of tolerating paradox, which provokes it like a stimulus, goad or gadfly into futile efforts at solution.
Compare Hegel’s Ab-solute: at the end of the Science of Logic, Being as Logos is finally “absolved,” or set free from, externality. Western metaphysics is logic: onto-theo-logy.
Logic makes Being present as intolerable (indissoluble). Therein lies its chief value for philosophy. The beasts of the zodiac “mutter[…] thunder of rebellion” under the sting of Parallax, chapter 14, Ulysses, “Oxen of the Sun.”
— Zeno, Kafka and the Marriage at Cana
Motion “escapes Being” (as understood by physics and metaphysics at least) since motion straddles the “not yet” and the “no longer,” and the present is only their virtual intersection. (Cf. Augustine.)
Hence Zeno found it easy to demonstrate motion’s impossibility with four classic arguments: the Dichotomy, the Achilles, the Arrow and the Stadium. Cf. “Parmenides, Zeno and the Birth of Logic,” Stephen Hoffman, academia.edu/9991192.
Being is das Schloß, the “stronghold,” resistant to incremental incursion in Kafka’s deliberately unfinished logical-comedic take on Zeno’s paradoxes. The Castle is keyed to the fundamental attunement (Grundstimmung) of exhaustion: Erschöpfung, depletion.
Not only does the action of The Castle fail to begin, it becomes progressively more un-begun as the novel “proceeds.” K. the land surveyor, an empty vessel, slave to the first law of thermodynamics and other metaphysical impediments to motion, is at the end of his road, and the snows are piling up alarmingly, blocking all avenues of village commerce.
K. has used up all his time and can’t find any more. He knows how to spend time — that essential ingredient of motion — but not where to find any.
He should have read Heidegger’s essay “Das Ding,” where the empty vessel (Krug, jug) fills with wine (der den unsterblichen Göttern gespendete Trank*) at the wedding feast of heaven and earth, whose marriage the jug consecrates as dingendes Ding. The world “worlds” in divine concert with the “thinging” of the thing.
See Vorträge und Aufsätze, Teil II, page 45: [D]ie Hochzeit von Himmel und Erde….weilt im Wein, den die Frucht des Rebstocks gibt, in der das Nährende der Erde und die Sonne des Himmels einander zugetraut wird.
“Wine celebrates the marriage of heaven and earth. Sun and soil are wedded in the vine-stock’s fruit.”
Compare the marriage at Cana. No technical mastery in the form of a mathematical apparatus for representing motion can overcome Zeno’s Achilles (despite Bertrand Russell’s blustery attempts at same in Mysticism and Logic) or storm Kafka’s impregnable Schloß, or guarantee wine and good weather for an outdoor wedding feast.
(*der den unsterblichen Göttern gespendete Trank: drink poured out, or “spent,” for the immortal gods. Cf. σπένδειν, below.)
— The Enjoyment of Spilled Wine
A sacrificial basin or cup is useless, holding only “spilth” — wine intended to be “spilt” on the ground for the gods. This distinguishes the jug, Krug, in Heidegger’s public lecture “The Thing” from other so-called “use objects” (Zeug, Sein und Zeit, chap. 3, §§15–18).
The κρατήρ, wine bowl, and sacrificial chalice brighten the normal economy of expenditure and consumption with a ceremony of libations.
Σπονδαί are drinks poured on the ground for the gods. Σπένδειν, σπένδω, means to pour out in sacrifice.
Compare der den unsterblichen Göttern gespendete Trank above—the drink offered to the gods at the wedding feast of heaven and earth. German Spenden (unlike the English “spend”) comes from the Greek σπένδειν, not the Latin ex-pendere.
This etymology gives thoughtful meaning to the expression “spend time.” We all know how to spend time. But do we know how to “spend” time (Greek σπένδειν)?
Wine “spilt” for the gods is neither used (ausgenützt) or consumed (verbraucht). It is enjoyed, or celebrated. Compare William Blake: “Bring out rule and measure in a time of dearth.” Calculate income and expenditure in a season of want. Celebrate Being at harvest time. “Celebration” stands for Being itself as unconcealment.
In his essay on the Anaximander fragment, Heidegger translated χρεών (κατα το χρεών, according to “usage” — the first word for Being in the Western tradition) neither with the usual Humean “habit” or “custom,” and still less as necessity, but rather as Brauch, enjoyment, Latin frui.
Brauchen means to brook — Middle High German bruchen, enjoy the fruits of something. (Compare usufruct). Etwas fruchtet, blossoms, comes to full employment or fruition. See Holzwege, page 367.
— Hölderlin’s “Der Rhein”
Who enjoys the spilled wine, gods or men? The very question is a badly put version of the Seinsfrage.
Wenn aber das Sein in seinem Wesen das Wesen des Menschen braucht? Wenn das Wesen des Menschen im Denken der Wahrheit des Seins beruht? (ibid, page 373).
“What if Being in its essence enjoys [braucht, uses] the essence of man? If the essence of man consists in thinking the truth of Being?”
But what is Being? We know that, as Ereignis, the word speaks of both gods and mortals as beings whose fates are somehow intertwined in the Fourfold. Let us give the last word in this sprawling note to the poet Hölderlin:
Die Seligsten nichts fühlen von selbst,
Muß wohl, wenn solches zu sagen
Erlaubt ist, in der Götter Namen
Teilnehmend fühlen ein Andrer,
Den brauchen sie.
“Since the blessed ones feel nothing themselves, another — if it is permitted to say such a thing — must feel on their behalf, in the gods’ name. Him they enjoy [brauchen — employ, use, need].”
See Heidegger’s 1934/35 lecture course Hölderlins Hymnen “Germanien” und “Der Rhein,” pages 268–273, where Heidegger compares this passage to an earlier draft version.
“Enjoyment” (Brauch) haunts time like a bodiless wraith, waiting for Dasein — with the help of language, gesture and destiny — to give it weight, location and mortality.
Stephen Hero, pg. 211: “By an epiphany [Stephen] meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind [sic] itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.” Note “phase of the mind” in the passage above, as in “phase of the moon.” Phase stems from the Greek φημί, to speak (cf. aphasia) which is an etymological cousin to φαίνω (epiphany): to make something appear. Epiphanies (Heidegger’s Entbergungen) well from fissures of Being. See note 31.
Chapter 2, “Nestor.”