Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2000 08:39:47 +0100
From: Michael David Pennamacoor email@example.com
Subject: Heidegger’s “Basic Concepts”
this is the promised text for those that are interested… A lecture course around the year of 1941, during the period of Heideger, referred to as The Turn (Kehre)… here it comprises the Introduction and the 2 or of 3 Divisions of the First Part… so a torso but a good one :-) also forgive the typos and the unreadable Greek phrases (will try to render them later but the main one (Anaximander) can be transliterated as “meleta to pan” – “take care beings as a whole”… happy reading :-)
BASIC CONCEPTS (Heidegger)
INTRODUCTION The Internal Connection between Ground-Being-Inception ß1. Elucidation of the title of the lecture “Basic Concepts” a) Basic concepts are ground-concepts
“Basic Concepts” [Grundbegriffe]-of what? The title of this lecture does not say. Hence what is supposed to be grasped by these concepts remains unclear “Concepts” are said to be representations [Vorstellungen] in which we bring before ourselves an object or entire regions of objects in general. “Basic Concepts” [Grundbegriffe], then, are more general representations of the most possibly encompassing regions. Such regions are nature, history, “the” state, “the” law, humanity, animal, or whatever else. However, in the lecture’s title there is no talk of the basic concepts of nature, of art, and other regions. The title does not specify anything of the kind for which the “Basic Concepts” are supposed to be such basic concepts, whether for the investigation of art history or jurisprudence, for chemistry or mechanical engineering, or for any other “subject area” or field of human practice. Perhaps the unsupplemented title “Basic Concepts” means this: that it does not treat of particular regions of beings, nor of the corresponding sciences that investigate them individually.
Since, however, the lecture is listed under the “rubric” “philosophy, “ ‘naturally’ the basic concepts “of philosophy” are meant. But if these were meant it would have been stated. Instead, the title only says “Basic Concepts, “ not “The Basic Concepts” nor “the” basic concepts of philosophy.
According to the traditional and also correct view, philosophy indeed thinks something more general than the particular regions of nature, history, state, art, nation, living thing. If we do not intend to mean the basic concepts of philosophy, then the unsupplemented title must have something even more general in mind than what is thought in “philosophy.” This most-general-of-all supposedly does not allow itself to be said directly. Perhaps there are no words with suffficient naming power to do so; perhaps the “appropriate” words are so used up they do not say anything anymore. Hence such an indefinite title is perhaps well suited, for thus we do not commit ourselves to anything in advance.
On the other hand, this nondescript title has a peculiar decisiveness about it. Evidently nothing arbitrary or peripheral is spoken of here, but only what is necessary and pertains to the main issue. But why isn’t this said directly? Well, it is. We only have to listen in the right way. With the first apprehension of the title, we must immediately begin to practice what will be demanded of us from now on: relinquishing the customary, which is at the same time the comfortable. We have to assume an attitude whose achievement requires no special knowledge in advance, neither scientific nor philosophical. The latter may be useful for other purposes, but here such knowledge would only be a hindrance. For here only one thing is required: readiness to put the essence of man at risk in thinking that which grounds this essence, and, foremost, that which grounds everything that man takes for being. Whatever grounds everything and gives ground to everything is itself the ground.
Thus the title tells us something about what is to be comprehended there after all. We only have to write the word differently: GroundConcepts [Grund-Begriffe]. Now the title says “the ground” is to be conceived, grasped, seized, indeed first reached, indeed first only anticipated. We think toward the ground of everything.
We are not, as it might appear, dealing with “concepts” as such-with muchmaligned “mere concepts, “ from which we easily recoil, though we assure ourselves at the same time that they are nothing concrete and lead nowhere.
b) The claim of the ground-concepts
“Ground-Gncepts” calls for us to grasp the ground, reach the foundation. This title calls us to come to stand where a footing and a permanence are granted, where all decisions are made, but also from where all indecisiveness borrows its hiding places. Grasping the ground means reaching the ground of everything in an understanding that not only takes notice of something but is, as a knowing, a standing and a stance. Knowing the ground is more originary, that is, more farreaching than common understanding. But more originary also means more decisive than every usual “willing, “ and more intimate than every familiar “feeling.” Therefore knowing the ground does not first need a “character” in order to have stability. This knowing is character itself. It is that stamp of man without which all firmness of will remains blind stubbornness, all deeds mere fleeting successes, all action a self-consuming busyness, and all “experiences” self-delusions.
“Ground-Concepts, “ that sounds more like a claim [Anspruch] upon us. We are exhorted [angesprochen] to set our thinking upon the path of reflection. From the time when the essential configuration of Western history (and not the mere succession of events) begins to unfold, a saying is handed down to us that goes p£~£Ta TO R~V, “Take into care beings as a whole” [das Seiende im Ganzen]-that means, consider that everything depends upon the whole of beings, upon what addresses [anspricht] humanity from there. Always consider the essential, first and last, and assume the attitude that matures us for such reflection. Like everything essential, this attitude must be simple, and the suggestion that intimates this attitude (which is a knowing) to us must be simple as well. It suffices for this suggestion to distinguish what humanity, having come to itself, must attend to.
c) The difference of claims upon man u) The claim of requirements: Needing
We attend either to what we need or to what we can do without.
We measure what we need according to our requirements, according to desires left to themselves and their cravings, according to what we count with and count upon. Behind these desires and cravings stands the press of that unrest for which every “enough” is just as soon a “never enough.” This unrest of continuously new needing, of self-increasing and expanding “interests, “ does not originate from anything like an artificially cultivated avarice. Rather, this avidity is already the result of that unrest within which the surge of mere life, of the merely living, reveals itself. To remain thrust and forced into its own craving belongs to the essence of the living. Indeed, “the living, “ which we know as plants and animals, always seems to find and maintain its fixed shape precisely in this craving, whereas man can expressly elevate the living and its cravings into a guiding measure and make of it the “principle” of “progress.” If we attend only to what we need, we are yoked into the compulsive unrest of mere life. This form of life arouses the appearance of the moved and the self-moving, and therefore of the free. Thus the appearance of freedom exists precisely where man attends only to what he needs. For man’s calculating and planning move within a field of play whose limits he himself can adjust to his particular wants.
However, this way man is only “free, “ i.e., mobile, within the compulsion of his “lifeinterests.” He is, in certain respects, unfettered within the circuit of compulsion, which determines itself from the premise that everything is a matter of utility. Servitude under the dominion of the constantly “needed, “ i.e., of utility, looks like the freedom and magnificence of consumption [Nutzniessung] and its increase.
p) The claim upon the essence of historical man
Man attends either to what he needs or to what he can do without.
In this other attitude, he does not calculate under the compulsion of utility and from the unrest of consumption. He does not calculate at all, but considers everything from a standpoint that is limited to the essential. This limitation is only an apparent restriction, in truth it is a release into the expanse of those demands that befit man’s essence. Attending to the dispensable brings man into the simplicity and unequivocalness of an entirely different domain. Here speak claims that do not derive from his needs and do not pertain to the prospect of the wellbeing of the individual and the many. This domain alone is the site in which a “realm” [Reich] can be founded. For here alone historical man can stand out into an openness while subordinating everything needful and useful to himself, thereby first becoming capable of ruling in an essential sense.
Man, in his essence, is addressed by claims that demand an answer. But these claims, which we better name exhortations [An-sprechungen], cannot be displayed like matters of fact, nor enumerated like priorities. Historical man must be struck by them, and for that he must allow himself to be struck in the first place. Perhaps the old saying pS\£Ta TO ~av puts something into words that strikes historical man in his essence, such that all that is merely human is not sufficient to satisfy the claim.
Perhaps the attempt to think “Ground-Concepts, “ to reach the ground of everything, comes to a knowing that cannot be added up from knowledge about “life, “ nor from the results of science, nor from the doctrines of a “faith.” Presumably, also, an individual can never invent such a knowing from the fortuitousness of his abilities and endowments. He can foist such knowledge neither upon himself nor upon others by decree. The relation to the essential, wherein historical man becomes free, can have its origin only within the essential itself.
d) Readiness for the originary, the incipient, and the “knowing better” of historiological consciousness
Man is either ready for what is always original, or he knows better.
Knowing better also reigns where man seems to subjugate himself to a divine worldplan. This knowing better begins in Western history with the advent of the age of historiological [historischen] consciousness. The rise and universal currency of historiological science and its varied utilization and exploitation, however, are already the late development of man’s calculating “attitude” toward history. This attitude begins with the ascendancy of Christianity as a principle for shaping the “world.” Since man has become ever more ingenious and clever in the last centuries so that nothing escapes him, the relation to the essential is more and more covered over, or, what is even more portentous, is reckoned into the otherwise calculable. There arises a condition in which everything is gauged according to whether it is new or old. In general, what counts for unlimited historiological calculation as “new” is not only the hitherto unfamiliar and unprecedented, but also everything that continues and promotes whatever progression happens to be under way. What is useless in relation to the promotion of progress counts as “old.” The old is then the antiquated. Thus in each epoch historiology and historiological research endeavor, always under different catchwords, to “paint” over the old and the bygone with the gloss of the respective present, and so to justify historiological activity itself as indispensable.
However, the essential has its own history [Geschichte] and is not calculable according to the ciphers “new” and “old.” Where such calculation nevertheless occurs, relations to the essential are most covered over. There man stubbornly sets himself against the demand that he reach the essential upon the path of remembrance [Erinnerung] and that he grasp the ground. According to the view of the merely calculating man, remembrance fixes itself to something earlier, hence older, hence old, hence antiquated, and therefore at best attainable through extant historiological research. Yet the earlier, assuming it is essential, remains outside that utility to which everything “new” and “old” in the conventional sense must subject itself.
e) The meaning of rellection upon the inception of history
According to the historiological reckoning of time the earliest is indeed the oldest, and, in the estimation of ordinary understanding, also the most antiquated. The earliest, however, can also be the first according to rank and wealth, according to originality and bindingness for our history [Geschichte] and impending historical [geschichtliche] decisions. The first in this essential sense for us is the Greeks. We name this “earliest” the incipient [das Anfangliche]. From it comes an exhortation, in relation to which the opining of the individual and the many fails to hear, and misconstrues its essential power, unaware of the unique opportunity: that remembrance of the inception can transport us into the essential.
We can fail to hear the claim of the incipient. That it comes to this seems to alter nothing in the course of our history. Thus the dispensability of remembering the inception is “practically” demonstrated. Indeed, we can not only fail to hear the claim of the incipient, but even drive ourselves to the self-delusion that we do not have to listen to it in the first place, since we already “know” about it. The whole world talks about the extraordinary “cultural” significance of the ancient Greeks. But no one who speaks like this has the slightest knowledge that, and how, an inception occurs there.
Those who evince a somewhat belated enthusiasm for “classical antiquity, “ and likewise those who encourage and promote the “humanistic gymnasium, “ demonstrate a no more essential stance toward the incipient, so long as their efforts are devoted only to salvaging what has been hitherto; so long as they fall back upon an inherited and very questionably arranged cultural treasure, and in so doing consider themselves superior to the enthusiasts of the technological age. Familiarity with the ancient Greek language is certainly indispensable for the endeavor, expressly understood as a task, to awaken, develop, and secure remembrance of the incipient. The education of those who must bring about remembrance of the incipient cannot forgo instruction in the language of the ancient Greeks. But one should not infer from this the erroneous opinion that those who, for whatever reasons and intentions, possess knowledge of the Greek language and pursue a “humanistic schooling” would also be in possession of the ancient Greek world. Not all of those who study at a humanistic gymnasium, nor all of those who teach there, nor all who train these teachers at the university, have already, by reason of that fact, a knowledge of the inception of the essential in Western history, and that means of its future.
How many Germans “live” who speak their mother tongue effortlessly and yet are unable to understand Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason or one of Holderlin’s hymns! Hence whoever has mastered the Greek language, or has some acquaintance with it by accident or choice, possesses not the least proof thereby that he is able t, o think according to the thought of a Greek thinker. For it could be that he does not let himself get involved with questions in the first place, since he imagines himself, perhaps as an adherent of a religious faith, to be in possession of the truth. In such cases, which are not at all rare, passion for the “classical” and for “humanism” is even more fateful than naked ignorance of this “cultural treasure.” Love of antiquity is then a pretext for striving to evade every decisive reflection.
Readiness to confront the inception of our history thus remains more vital than any knowledge of languages. This means readiness to confront the essential, which, as a decision, is projected ahead of this history at its inception, and is its ground.
Readiness to confront the inception can originate as genuine only from the necessities of the history into which we ourselves are placed. When we cast aside reflection upon the necessary and insist we are in possession of the truth, all remembrance of the inception is impossible. And where such remembrance does seem to be fostered, it is only an evasion of what is worthy of question and a flight into the past.
The measure of whether remembrance of the inception is genuine can never be determined from an interest in reviving classical antiquity, but only from a resolve to attain an essential knowing that holds for what is to come. This knowing need not even concern the inception of our history at first.
The test, however, of whether we are merely collecting information, whether we are merely taking bygone cultural aims as a pretext for thoughtlessness, or whether we are willing to set out upon the path to reflection, this test we must put to ourselves. To this belongs inner freedom, but also the opportunity to experience first of all how such reflection proceeds and what it entails.
f) The goal of the lecture: Reflection as preparation for confronting the inception of our history
This lecture aims to provide the opportunity for such reflection or experience. You should think according to and along with what is here thought forth. This thinking is not prescribed in any examination protocol, and fortunately cannot be so prescribed. Such thinking does not belong to any “required course of study.” Indeed, it does not belong to any “course of study” at all. It also does not serve to further “general education.” It cannot provide entertainment for students of all departments. The thinking in which we reflect and do nothing but reflect does not yield any utility whatsoever, for it allows us to recognize that there is something that does not have to be “effective” or useful in order to be. Therefore in this thinking we are left to our own freedom.
The possibilities for professional training, the appropriation of the skills necessary for this, instruction in areas of knowledge not directly relevant to professional training, these can always be subsequently obtained and improved upon where needed. By contrast, the moments for essential reflection are rare and unrepeatable. That holds above all for those moments that occur once in a lifetime that either awaken, bury, or waste one’s fundamental abilities for the entire future.
“Ground-Concepts”-this title involves the readiness to reach the ground and not to let it go again. If this readiness is not to remain an empty curiosity, it must immediately begin practicing what it is ready for. It must begin with reflection.
It is now time to actually carry out a simple reflection, in which we shall prepare to confront the inception of our history. From such remembrance of this inception we can come to anticipate that history is moving toward decisions that will surpass everything otherwise familiar to modern man in his objectives. If this is the case, then it is necessary at this moment of the world for the Germans to know what could be demanded of them in the future, when the “spirit of their fatherland” must be a “holy heart of nations” [Volker].
Recapitulation 1. Our understanding of “basic concepts” and our relation to them as an anticipator, v knowing
By “basic concepts” one usually understands those notions that delimit a region of objects as a whole, or according to single, leading aspects. Thus the concept of “force” is a basic concept of natural science, the concept of “culture” is a basic concept of historiology, the concept “law” is a basic concept of jurisprudence-in another way also a basic concept of natural science-, the concept of “style” is a basic concept of research
in art history, but also in “philology.” Indeed, it originates from here, as it first means the mode of writing and then of saying and speaking, and finally pertains to the “formal language” of each “work, “ which concerns the historians of plastic art and painting, indeed all “aesthetics.”
So understood, basic concepts assist the particular sciences with the investigation of their regions as guidelines for questioning, answering, and presenting.
We now take more literally the title of this lecture, according to which the first elucidation was given. We write it correspondingly: GroundConcepts. The title expresses the demand to reach the ground of all that is, of what can therefore be called beings, or to anticipate it and not to let what is anticipated go again.
We are thus concerned solely with attaining the ground and the relation to the ground, not with becoming acquainted with “concepts” as mere casings of representations. The relation to the ground is also already a knowing, even where it is a matter of essential anticipation [Ahnen]. And anhcipation of the essential [Wesenhaft] always remains more vital [wesentlich] than any certainty in calculating what is without essence [ Wesenlos] .
If we are talking here about anticipation, we should not substitute a rambling feeling of incidental states of mind for the concept and its rigor. The word anticipation should show us the way to consider that what should be brought to knowing here cannot be produced from man by his own choice. Anticipation means grasping something that comes upon us, whose coming has long held sway, except that we overlook it. And indeed we overlook it simply because our knowing attitude as a whole remains confused and does not recognize the simplest differences, or mistakes or ignores the import of differences that are known. Thinking in anticipation and for anticipation is essentially more rigorous and exacting than any formal-conceptual cleverness in whatever sector of the calculable.
To attain anticipatory knowing we must practice such knowing. The fundamental condition for such practice is not a prior familiarity, for example, in the form of philosophical opinions acquired through reading. The fundamental condition is readiness to make ourselves free for the essential. Mere familiarity, whether narrow or wide, is capable of nothing by itself. However, that does not mean we can do without familiarity everywhere and completely, especially mature and carefully cultivated familiarity. Nor that its possession belongs to the long elapsed ideals of an “intellectualistic” era. Thinking that merely looks to the useful first notices gaps and mistakes only when it comes to harm, when lack of those who are capable and knowledgeable endangers the mastery of present and future tasks.
2. The decay of knowing in the present age: The decision in favor of the useful over what we can do without
The store of knowledge that today’s youth bring with them corresponds neither to the greatness nor to the seriousness of the task. Knowing is equal to the task of the “age” in only one respect: its decay and its task are equally enormous.
But these deficiencies will not be eliminated by suddenly beginning to learn more and faster. We must first begin again to learn “learning” and to know standards of measure. Cultural dissolution will not be abated by the mere introduction of newer and more convenient “textbooks.” The youth must not wait until more fundamental acquaintance and actual contemplation are demanded of them from above, for it is precisely the other way around. It is the prerogative of a true and wakeful youth to develop exhortations to knowledge from out of itself, and to cling to these exhortations for itself, in order to construct the future. Whether one occasionally “reads a book” is a measure for the petite bourgeoisie. It does not ask whether today’s man, who gets his “education” from “charts” and “magazines, “ from radio reports and movie theaters, whether such a confused, dizzy, and purely American man still knows, or can know, what … … reaalng means.
Nor will the degeneration of knowing be overcome when one merely declares how much better it was in the old days. For even the former school and educational system of the last decades was already no longer able to awaken and keep awake the binding power of spirit and the bindingness of the essential, and thus no longer able to force us into reflection. In times of essential decisions a comfortable retreat to what has been up
to now helps as little as the hurried restriction to daily needs. Here only reflection saves us, and the inner choice as to whether we want to be exposed to the claim the essential makes upon us or not. The decision as to whether we are capable of making decisions about ourselves comes before everything. If we are, then the decision is whether we adhere to what we need or attend to what we can do without.
If we adhere to what we need, that means, in your present case, chasing after what is necessary for the most convenient possible arrangement of professional training.
By comparison, if we attend at the same time to what we can do without, when, as for many of our young friends at the front, it comes to the most extreme, then what alone remains essential comes into view almost of itself.
The mark of what we decide here does not consist in the fact that some enroll in a philosophy course and others do not. How the aforementioned decision is made, and if it is made, no one can establish immediately from any kind of mark or certificate. Here each person is responsible for himself, for his own delusions, and that for which he holds himself ready.
Thus one can note this reference to the crisis of knowing, grounded actually in the essence of modern history and not produced by the present emergency, with a certain satisfaction that such a thing is said. Such a one takes his misplaced smirk over this criticism already for an accomplishment. However, one then leaves everything the way it was, not wishing to know that what is at risk here is not the organization of the teaching system, but the most proper concern of youth: that it must take things into its own hands, that the best organization and the best curricula do not help here, because behind all of these stand decisions about what is essential. Whoever thinks he can find confirmations of his own decisionless discontent here is living in an illusion.
3. The inception as a decision about what is essential in Western history (in modern times: unconditional will and technology)
Of course it is especially difficult for modern man to find his way into the essential, because in another respect he is familiar with too much and
indeed believes he is familiar with everything. For him everything earlier is something past, by means of which he can illuminate what comes later and what pertains to him according to his needs. Here the earlier has no power of decision because it is no longer experienced as the incipient in history. The inception, however, can only be experienced as an inception when we ourselves think inceptively and essentially. This inception is not the past, but rather, because it has decided in advance everything to come, it is constantly of the future. We must think about the inception this way.
By inception we understand the originary decisions that sustain in advance what is essential in Western history. To the essential first belongs the determination of the essence of truth, in whose light Western man seeks, finds, secures, and transforms what is true.
The inception as the inception of history is only where there is freedom, that means where a humanity decisively comports itself toward beings and their truth. Nations and races can perhaps live without history if it is a matter of mere “life.” The mere passage of “life” is not yet history, not even when much “happens, “ i.e., transpires, in it.
The inception of our history is the Greeks. We see here something essential that harbors still uncompleted decisions within itself. For us this inception is not “antiquity, “ and reflection upon it is not an activity aimed merely at salvaging a handed-down cultural treasure. The thinker of history Jakob Burckhardt (who, happily, was never a “historian”) said decades ago: Occupation with antiquity “is treated here and there like a poor old relative, who, for decency’s sake, one may not allow to go under.”i
The equipment needed for reflection upon the inception is, for the purpose of this lecture, directly necessary only for the person who is attempting to provide an opportunity for reflection for the first time here. Where it is necessary for us to hear the Greek word of ancient sayings, translation can be sufficient-to be sure, under the condition that the elucidation of what the word says to us is not lacking, that it is thought through within the horizon of our own experiencing and knowing. Besides, the German language is suited like no other for translating the ancient Greek word, especially when the Greek word is not merely translated into a current German usage, but when this too is renewed at the same time and becomes incipient itself.
But what actually distances modern man from the inception of his history is not only and not primarily the other “language, “ but the changed mode of worldinterpretation and the basic position in the midst of beings. The modern position is the “technological.” It is not technological because there are steam engines and then the combustion motor, but there are these things because the epoch is technological. What we call modern technology is not only a tool and a means, over and against which today’s man can be a master or servant. Before and beyond these possible attitudes, technology is an already decided mode of worldinterpretation, which determines not only the means of transportation, subsistence, and recreation but also the possibilities for any human attitude whatsoever. It preforms them according to their capacity for implementation. That is why technology is mastered only where it is affirmed from the outset and without reservation. That means the practical mastery of technology in its unconditional development already presupposes a metaphysical subjugation to technology. Accompanying this subjugation within us is an attitude that grasps everything according to plan and calculation, and does so with a view to vast timespans in order willfully and knowingly to secure what can last for the longest possible duration.
It is one thing when empires endure for millennia because of their continuing stability. It is something else when world dominions are knowingly planned to last millennia and the assurance of their existence is undertaken by that will whose essential goal is the greatest possible duration of the greatest possible order of the largest possible masses. This will has been the concealed metaphysical essence of modernity for the last three centuries. It appears in various predecessors and guises that are not sure of themselves and their essence. That in the twentieth century this will would attain the shape of the unconditional, Nietzsche had clearly thought through in advance. Participation in this will to man’s unconditional mastery over the earth, and the execution of this will, harbor within themselves that subjugation to technology that does not appear as resistance and resentment. That subjection appears as will, and that means it is also effective here.
However, where one interprets the execution of this metaphysical will as a “product” of selfishness and the caprice of “dictators” and “authoritarian states, “ there speak only political calculation and propaganda, or the metaphysical naivete of a thinking that ran aground centuries ago, or both. Political circumstances, economic situations, population growth, and the like, can be the proximate causes and horizons for carrying out this metaphysical will of modern world-history. But they are never the ground of this history and therefore never its “end.” The will to preservation, and that always means the will to enhance life and its lastingness, works essentially against decline and sees deficiency and powerlessness in what lasts only a short while.
On the contrary, for the inception of our history, for the Greeks, decline was unique, momentary, laudable, and great. Clearly, we have to distinguish here between decline while entering into something unique, and perishing while clinging fast to the ordinary. What is imperishable in the inception does not consist in the longest possible duration of its consequences nor in the furthest possible extension and breadth of its effects, but in the rarity and singularity of each varied return of what is originary within it. Hence we cannot experience the inception through mere historiological familiarity with what was before, but only in realizing what essentially came to be known at the inception itself.
4. Practicing the relation to what is “thought-worthy” by considering the ground
If now and then we hear a brief saying of the incipient Greek thinkers of the West, the important thing at first is that we hear, and we think about the fact that everything has to do with us. But in order to consider this, we must actually become practiced in thinking. The worst way to practice thinking, however, would be an academic course in “logic.” The usual, orthodox logic thinks, at best (if it thinks at all), “about” thinking. But we do not learn to think originarily when someone shows us how to think, in an inferior and long-since impossible manner, “about” thinking. Rather, we learn to think only when we try to attain an essential and genuine relation to what above all else is thought-worthy. And what is thoughtworthy is certainly not “thinking” but what challenges thinking, what places thinking in its service and thus bestows rank and value upon it. We do not learn this essential thinking by means of any “logic.”
“Ground-Concepts” means to say: grasping the ground of everything, and that means to attain a relation to the “ground” of everything. What “ground” means here must be clarified step by step, along with what the relation to the ground consists in, to what extent a knowing belongs to this relation, and to what extent this relation is even itself a knowing. Thus it would be premature if we wanted to equate “ground” with “cause” of everything, and wanted furthermore to interpret this cause as a first cause in the sense of a creator according to the Bible and Christian dogma. It would also be premature to believe that with these “concepts” it is solely a matter of representing the ground. It is rather a question of extending our thinking toward the manner in which the ground includes us in its essence, not the manner in which we take the ground to be merely an “object” and use it for an “explanation of the world.”
However the essence of the ground, but also “the concepts, “ i.e., the relation to the ground, might explain and confirm themselves to us, one thing remains clear in advance: no individual with a worked-out doctrine and viewpoint can arbitrarily, at any particular time, expound something and decide it by decree. It is also easy to see that an examination of previous viewpoints and doctrines concerning the “ground” and the “relation” to the “ground” at best provides a “historiological” familiarity and avoids precisely what is all-important: the relation through which we ourselves come into proximity with what strikes us essentially and makes a claim upon us. We do not wish to discuss doctrines. Rather, we want to become aware of the essential, in which we stand, or within which we are perhaps still driven to and fro without a footing and without understanding.
5. The essential admittance of historical man into the inception, into the “essence” of ground
We must listen our way into that place where we ourselves belong. With this, reflection leads us through the question as to whether we still belong anywhere at all. Even to merely anticipate where we could belong it is necessary to experience ourselves. This means “ourselves” not according to an historiologically given condition, “ourselves” not according to a currently existing situation, “ourselves” not according to the individually occurring specimens of humanity, but “ourselves” in respect to what determines us and is other than us, which nevertheless governs our essence. We call this, arbitrarily at first, the inception of our history. By this we do not mean history as a series of events in terms of a “causal nexus, “ of which what occurs later and today is an effect. History means, again at first appearance arbitrarily, the happening [Ereignis] of a decision about the essence of truth. The manner in which the whole of beings is revealed, in which man is allowed to stand in the midst of this revelation, is grounded and transformed in such a decision. Such a happening is exceptional, and this exceptional history is so simple when it happens and prepares itself that man at first and for a long time thereafter fails to see it and fails to recognize it. This is because his vision is confused by habituation to the multiplicity of the ordinary.
The simple is the most difficult, and can only be experienced after long endeavor. Remembrance of the inception of our history is the awakening of knowing about the decision that, even now, and in the future, determines Western humanity. Remembrance of the inception is therefore not a flight into the past but readiness for what is to come.
In such remembrance we ourselves stand everywhere at risk, for in remembrance we always remain unimportant as extant human specimens and currently existing human groups. Historical man matters only when and insofar as he stands in relation to the essence of history and hears a claim from this essence according to which what matters is distinguished from what doesn’t matter, i.e., the groundless. Above all we ourselves stand at risk, and that means the truth that determines us and has perhaps long since become unrecognizable. But we do not find ourselves by becoming selfish and following the impulse of those interests that merely drive us along. We are most likely to find ourselves when we succeed in looking away from what is self-seeking and peculiar to ourselves and bring into relief something long overlooked. Let us allow ourselves, then, to be struck by the incipient, and come to hear an ancient saying.
Simply said, “Ground-Concepts” [Grundbegriffe] means for us here: grasping [begreifen] the ground of beings as a whole. To grasp, however, does not mean that we merely permit ourselves to represent the ground and to have thoughts about it. When we have grasped something we also say something has opened up to us. This means for the most part that we have been transported into what has opened up and remain determined by it from now on. Thus “to grasp” [Be-greifen] the ground means above all that the “essence” of the ground embraces us into itself [ein-begriffen], and that it speaks to us in our knowing about it. Grasping announces itself to us as being-embraced-into the “essence” of the ground. This beingembraced-into does not consist exclusively in a “knowing, “ although it has the essential characteristic of a knowing. This knowing, however, can remain concealed from itself for a long time, and can block the way to itself. Nevertheless, even so veiled, this knowing permeates the history of mankind and is the bedrock in the mountain range of history. Man does not occasion this knowing of the ground through mere flashes of insight, nor can he force it through the art of mere cleverness. What he can do, and constantly does in one way or another, is only to remain within this knowing or forget it, to become aware of it (remembrance) or evade it.
FIRST DIVISION Discussion of the “Is,” of Beings as a Whole ß 2. Beings as a whole are actual, possible, r~ecessary
Let us follow the ancient saying:
1ls~a ~o ~r~av
“Take into care beings as a whole.” And if we attempt to think the whole of beings at once, then we think, roughly enough, this: that the whole of beings “is, “ and we consider what it “is.” We think the whole of beings, everything that is, in its being. In so doing we think at first something indeterminate and fleeting, and yet we also mean something for which we find nothing comparable, something singular. For the whole of beings does not occur twice, otherwise it wouldn’t be what we mean.
To what “is” belongs not only the currently actual, which affects us and which we stumble upon: the happenings, the destinies and doings of man, nature in its regularity and its catastrophes, the barely fathomable powers that are already present in all motives and aims, in all valuations and attitudes of belief. To what “is” belongs also the possible, which we expect, hope for, and fear, which we only anticipate, before which we recoil and yet do not let go. To be sure, the possible is the not yet actual, but this not-actual is nevertheless no mere nullity. The possible also “is, “ its being simply has another character than the actual.
Different yet again from what happens to be actual and the possible is the necessary. Thus beings do not exhaust themselves in the actual. To beings belong the wealth of the possible and the stringency of the necessary. The realm of beings is not identical to the domain of the actual.
In terms of number, but above all in terms of modality, we mean more than the “actual” when we say “beings.” Indeed, the actual is perhaps not at all the standard for beings. And whenever one demands closeness to the actual for human life, the “actuality” that is really meant is not what is simply present, but what is planned, not what is mastered, but an unspoken claim to power. The oft-mentioned “actual” is not the actual, but the possible. Thus we never think “beings” as a whole as long as we only mean the actual. Henceforth, if we earnestly think beings as a whole, if we think their being completely, then the actuality of the actual is contained in being, but also the possibility of the possible and the necessity of the necessary.
It remains to be asked why precisely these three (possibility, actuality, necessity) belong to being, whether they alone exhaust its essence. For metaphysics (ontology) it is clearly decided, beforehand and without any consideration, that these three types of beings, also simply called “the” “modalities” (actuality, possibility, necessity), exhaust the essence of being. That a being is either actual, possible, or necessary strikes ordinary understanding as a truism. However, this is perhaps a misunderstanding of the other truism that beings are actual and the actual is the effective and what counts at any particular time.
ß3. Nonconsideration of the essential distinction between being and beings
But what passes itself off as even more self-evident is just that beings “are, “ or, as we say, are determined “by being.” When we say “beings are, “ we distinguish each time between beings and their being, without noticing this distinction at all. Thus we also do not ask what this distinction consists in, from whence it originates, how it remains so obvious, and where it gets the right to this obviousness. We also do not find the slightest reason to concern ourselves with this distinction between being and beings in the first place.
When we consider the whole of beings, or even just attempt to think about it in a vague way, we leave what we envisage for the most part indeterminate and indistinct, whether beings or being, or both of them alternately and indefinitely, or each separately but in a barely comprehended relation. From here originates an old confusion of speech. We say “being” and really mean beings. We talk about beings as such and mean, at bottom, being. The distinction between beings and being seems not to obtain at all. If it does obtain, ignoring it seems not to cause any particular “harm. “
Things take their course. However, we do not first hold ourselves within the abovementioned distinction between beings and being when we reflect upon the whole of beings and actually consider its being. The distinction pervades all of our speaking about beings, indeed, it pervades every comportment toward beings whatever they might be, whether toward beings that we ourselves are not (stone, plant, animal) or beings that we ourselves are.
When we say, for example, completely outside scientific deliberation and far from all philosophical contemplation, “the weather is fine, “ and then by “weather” we mean something actual and existing, and we mean with “fine” the actual condition, and we mean with the inconspicuous “is” the manner in which this being, the weather, thus and so exists. Hence we mean the being of the being that is called “weather.” The “is” does not thereby name a being, unlike “the weather” and “fine.” Conversely, “the weather” and “fine” name a being, unlike the “is.”
The weather is determined by the warmth of the sun, by the radiation of the earth and by its soil conditions, by wind (air current), by relative humidity, by the electrical conditions of the atmosphere, and more of the same. We can directly observe and, with the appropriate apparatus, assess the weather and what is relevant to it. We can decide if the weather is good or bad or “doubtful.” What is good or bad or doubfful about the weather, we can see, sense. We can encounter the weather and its condition. But wherein lies the “is”? What does it mean, what does it consist in, that the weather “is” and that it “is” fine? The fine weather-that we can be glad about, but the “is”? What are we to make of it? We can read from the hygrometer whether the air is more or less humid, but there are no instruments to measure and comprehend the “is” of what we mean by “is.” Thus we say with complete clumsiness: there are hygrometers, wind gauges, barometers that indicate how the weather “is, “ but there are no “is”-gauges, no instrument that could measure and take hold of the “is.” And yet we say the weather-itself, namely, -is thus and so. We always mean by this what a being is, whether it is, and the way it “is.” We mean the being of beings. While we mean something like this, namely being, we nevertheless attend only to particular beings.
In the case above we are interested only in the weather conditions, only in the weather, but not in the “is.” How many times a day do we use this inconspicuous word “is, “ and not only in relation to the weather? But what would come of our taking care of daily business if each time, or even only one time, we were to genuinely think of the “is” and allow ourselves to linger over it, instead of immediately and exclusively involving ourselves with the respective beings that affect our intentions, our work, our amusements, our hopes and fears? We are familiar with what is, beings themselves, and we experience that they are. But the “is”-where in all the world are we supposed to find it, where are we supposed to look for something like this in the first place?
ß4. The nondiscoverability of the “is”
“The leaf is green.” We find the green of the leaf in the leaf itself. But where is the “is”? We say, nevertheless, the leaf “is”-it itself, the leaf. Consequently the “is” must belong to the visible leaf itself. But we do not “see” the “is” in the leaf, for it would have to be colored or spatially formed. Where and what “is” the “is”?
The question remains strange enough. It seems to lead to an empty hairsplitting, a hairsplitting about something that does not and need not trouble us. The cultivation of fruit trees takes its course without thinking about the “is, “ and botany acquires information about the leaves of plants without otherwise knowing anything else about the “is.” It is enough that beings are. Let’s stay with beings; wanting to think about the “is” “is” mere quibbling. Or instead we intentionally steer clear of a simple answer to the question as to where the “is” can be found.
Let’s stay with the last example. “The leaf is green.” Here we shall take “the green leaf itself, “ the designated being, as the “object.” Now, insofar as the “is” is not discoverable in this object, it must belong to the “subject, “ that means to the person who judges and asserts propositions. Each person can be regarded as a “subject” in relation to the “objects” that they encounter. But how does it stand with the subjects, of whom each can say “I” about itself, of whom many can say “we” about themselves? These “subjects” also “are” and must “be.” To say that the “is” in the proposition “the leaf is green” lies in the “subject” is only to defer the question. For the “subject” is also a “being, “ and thus the same question repeats itself. Indeed, it is perhaps still more difficult to say just to what extent “being” belongs to the subject, and belongs to it such that it would be transferred from here, so to speak, to “objects.” In addition, when we understand the green leaf as an “object, “ we grasp it immediately and only in its relation to the subject, and precisely not as an independent being that we address in the “is” and “is green” in order to articulate what pertains to the being itself.
The flight from object to subject is in many respects a questionable way out. Thus we must reach still further and take notice for the first time of what we mean by the “is.”
ß5. The unquestioned character of the “is” in its grammatical determination-emptiness and richness of meaning
When we take the “is” as a “word” we label it, according to grammar, as a derivation and form of the verb “to be.” We can also elevate this “verb” into a noun: being. We can easily take notice of this grammatically determinable derivation, but it contributes nothing to our under
standing of what is named by the words “to be, “ “being, “ “is, “ “are, “ “was, “ “shall be, “ “has been.” Finally we shall find out that no special assistance is needed in order to understand these words.
We say “the weather is fine.” We can ask whether it really is fine, and whether it will last or isn’t already starting to change. There can be doubt as to the characteristics of this being-the weather-but not about the “is, “ that is to say, not about what the “is” means here. Also when it becomes questionable if the weather is “good” or “bad, “ and we ask “Is the weather really as bad as it looks from this corner?”-then the “is” itself remains entirely unquestioned in the question. There is nothing questionable about the “is”-about what we mean by it. But how is it supposed to become questionable? For indeed in the word “is” something is thought that has no special content, no determination. “The weather is fine, “ “the window is closed, “ “the street is dark, “ here we constantly meet with the same empty meaning. The fullness and variability of beings never comes from the “is” and from being, but from beings themselves: weather, window, street, bad, closed, dark. When we say about beings that they are thus and so, we might distinguish between beings and being. But in this distinction being and the “is” remains continually indifferent and uniform, for it is emptiness itself. Indeed, perhaps we fall into a trap, so to speak, and attach to a linguistic form questions that have no support in what is actual. Useless hairsplitting instead of investigating the actual!?
Suppose we say, to stay with the weather, “it rains.” Here the “is” does not present itself at all, and yet we mean that something actually “is.” But what is the point of all this fuss over the empty little word “is”? The indeterminacy and emptiness of the word “is” is not eliminated by putting a noun in place of the “is” and pronouncing the name “being.” At best, it is even increased.
It could appear that something important is concealed in what is named by the noun “being, “ something important and in this case especially profound, even though the title “being” nevertheless remains just a nametag for emptiness.
And yet, behind the uniformity and emptiness of the word “is, “ a scarcely considered richness conceals itself. We say: “this man is from Swabia”; “the book is yours”; “the enemy is in retreat”; “red is port”; “God is”; “there is a flood in China”; “the goblet is silver”; “the soldier is on the battlefield”; “the potato beetle is in the fields”; “the lecture is in room 5”; “the dog is in the garden”; “this man is the devil’s own.” “Above all summits/Is rest…. “
Each time, the “is” has a different meaning and import for speech. We do not want to avoid this complexity but rather to emphasize it, for such a survey of the obvious can serve as a preliminary exercise for something else.
“The man is from Swabia” says: he originates from there; “the book is yours” says: it belongs to you; “the enemy is in retreat” means: he has begun to withdraw; “red is port” means: the red color is a sign for . . .; “God is” is supposed to mean: God exists, he is actually there; “there is a flood in China” means: there something prevails, spreads, and results in destruction; “the goblet is silver” means: according to its material characteristics, it consists of . . .; “the soldier is on the battlefield” would say: he engages the enemy; “the potato beetle is in the fields” establishes that: this animal causes damage there; “the lecture is in room 5” means: the lecture takes place there; “the dog is in the garden” means to say: the dog is located there, runs around there; “this man is the devil’s own” means: he acts as if possessed by evil. “Above all summits/Is rest . . . “ means- yes, what does this mean? Above all summits “rest locates itself’? Or: “takes place”? “exists”? “spreads”?-“Above all summits/Is rest.”- Here not one of the abovementioned elucidations of the “is” fits. And when we collect them together and add them up, their sum does not suffce either. Indeed, no paraphrase at all will do, so we simply have to leave the “is” to itself. And thus the same “is” remains, but simple and irreplaceable at once, the same “is” enunciated in those few words that Goethe wrote upon the mullions in a hut on the Kickelhahn at Ilmenau (cf. the letter to Zelter of Sept. 4, 1831).
How strange, that in response to Goethe’s word “Above all summits/Is rest” we vacillate over an attempted elucidation of the familiar “is, “ and hesitate to give any elucidation at all, so that we come to give up completely and only say the same words over and again: “Above all summits/ Is rest. “We forgo an elucidation of the “is,” not because its understanding could be too complicated, too difficult, even hopeless, but because here the “is” is said as if for the first and only time. This is something so unique and simple that we don’t have to do anything on our part to be addressed by it. Hence the “intelligibility” of the “is” that precludes all elucidation, the “intelligibility” that has perhaps a completely different mode than that familiarity in which the “is” otherwise occurs to us, constantly unthought, in everyday discourse.
All the same, the simple “is” of Goethe’s poem holds itself far away from the mere indeterminacy and emptiness that we indeed easily master, if only through the hastiness of our understanding. Here, on the contrary, and despite its intelligibility, we are not at all equal to the address of this word, but are admitted into something inexhaustible.
“Above all summits/Is rest . . . “; in this “is” speaks the uniqueness of a gathered wealth. Not the emptiness of the indeterminate, but the fullness of the overdetermined prevents an immediate delimitation and interpretation of the “is.” The insignificant word “is” thus begins to shine brightly. And the hasty judgment about the insignificance of the “is” starts to waver.
We now recognize the wealth of what the “is” has to say and is capable of saying, only in different respects from the complexity of the enumerated propositions. If we attempt to transfer the meaning of the “is” from any one of the above-cited propositions to the others, we immediately fail. Thus the emptiness and uniformity of the “is” shows itself to be a clumsy pretense that clings to the sameness of the sounds and the written characters. But how, then, is the alleged wealth supposed to lie in the “is” itself?
The word “is, “ taken by itself, remains helpless and poor in meaning. Why it is so with the “is, “ indeed why it must be so, is also easy to see. The complexity of the meanings of the “is” has its intelligible ground in the fact that a different being is represented each time in the above-cited propositions: the man from Swabia, the book, the enemy, the color red, God, the flood, the goblet, the soldier, the potato beetle, the lecture, the dog, the evil man, and finally in Goethe’s poem-what? “Rest”? Is “rest” represented there and something about it ascertained, that it is present “above all summits”?
Here again, we hesitate over the interpretation. And that is no wonder, since the propositions cited above are “prosaic” observations and declarations, while in the last example precisely a “poetic” proposition was brought forward. In “poetic propositions, “ if they may be called “propositions” at all, things do not lie on the surface as much as they do in familiar, everyday discourse. The “poetic” is the exception. The rule and the ordinary are not to be gathered from it, and that means whatever can be discerned of the “is” commonly and in general. Therefore we may hope to ascend to the level of “higher, “ “poetic” expression, and to be able to attempt its clarification, only when the meaning of the “is” is first clarified satisfactorily in the common assertive proposition. Thus it is perhaps just as well that we do not allow ourselves to be prematurely confused by the “poetic” example that was merely tacked on to the end of the propositional sequence.
The previously cited propositions suffice, then, to demonstrate that the “is” derives its meaning each time from the being that is respectively represented, addressed, and articulated in the proposition. Only thus can it fill the emptiness that is otherwise, and indeed characteristically, inherent in it from case to case, and present itself in the appearance of a fulfilled word.
a) The emptiness and indeterminacy of the “is” as a presupposition for its being a “copula”
Citing the examples above thus proves the exact opposite of what is supposed to be shown, not a richness of the “is” but precisely its emptiness. Hence the impression afforded at first by this much-used word is confirmed, i.e., that of an indeterminate and not further determinable word, which is the essential mode of this word. Indeed, the alleged emptiness of this word, the “is, “ can be properly demonstrated as soon as we cease to deal with it in an approximate way. Let us attend to the character of this word instead of the many examples of its application, which can easily be multiplied to infinity. Grammar informs us about this. According to grammar, the “is” has the task of connecting the “subject” with the “predicate.” The “is” is therefore called the “link” or “copula.”
The connecting remains dependent upon what is supposed to be connected, and the mode of the bond is determined by the mode of what is supposed to come into connection. That the “is” has the character of the copula shows clearly enough the extent to which its meaning must be characterized by emptiness and indeterminacy. For only thus can the “is” suffice for the various uses that are constantly demanded of it in discourse. The “is” remains not only actually an empty word, but due to its essence-as a connecting word-it may not be loaded down beforehand with any particular meaning. Its own meaning must therefore be totally “empty. “
b) Being (“is”) as the general, the universal
The uniformity of the “is” therefore cannot be passed off as a mere appearance. It distinguishes this word and thus indicates that the noun “being, “ derived from its infinitive “to be, “ also only signifies a perhaps indispensable but fundamentally empty representation. This uniformity is won by turning our view from beings and their respective determinations and retaining only the empty universal. For a long time now “being” has therefore been called the most common, the “general, “ the most general of all that is general. In this word, and in what it means, the solidity of each respective being evaporates into the haziest haze of the most universal. Hence Nietzsche calls “being” the “last breath of a vaporizing reality.”
If, however, being thus vaporizes and disappears, what becomes of the difference between being and beings?
In this difference, we “have” before us two differentia: beings and being. If, however, one of the two differentia in this difference, namely being, is only the emptiest universalization of the other, owes its essence to the other, and if consequently everything that has content and endures shifts to the side of beings, and being is in truth nothing, or at best an empty word-sound, then the differentiation may not be taken as completely valid. For it to be valid, each of the two “sides” would have to be able to maintain a genuine and radical claim to essence from out of itself.
If we are to consider the whole of beings, then we could certainly give the most universal but also the emptiest of beings the name “being.” But we fall at once into error when, fooled by the naming and establishing of the name “being, “ we chase after a so-called “being itself” instead of considering only beings (is . . . to be-being-being itself). Indeed, we do not simply fall once more into error, but into the mere emptiness of the purely null, where inquiry no longer finds any support, where there is nothing to be in error about. If we want to follow the saying p£~£1a TO 7rav, we therefore do well to avoid the phantom of an “abstract concept” named by the word “being.”
ß6. The solution of healthy common sense: Acting and effecting among beings instead of empty thinking about being (workers and soldiers)
But an alert sense for the actual and a healthy instinct for “realities” do not need such far-ranging reflections. These are already abstract enough, and additionally, they attempt to demonstrate the emptiness and groundlessness of the abstract. A forthright man experiences the whole of beings not through the dislocations of empty thinking about “being” but only by acting and effecting among beings. Of course, not every random activity guarantees a coalescence with the actual, and thus “the concrete, “ in distinction from the abstract. For this, participation in the inner law of the age is needed. But where this participation occurs, there awakens a heightened knowledge which is delivered over to something necessary, and that means indispensable for it. Therein lies an authentic concept of being free and freedom articulated by Nietzsche (see Twilight of the Idols, 1888).
But who would deny that active participation in the actual takes place in various levels of knowing and acting, and must do so completely for an age in which the “Will to Power” alone everywhere determines the fundamental characteristic of acting, and even rules over the most apparently opposed standpoints, so that nothing more remains of the previous world? Who would deny that here all human planning and effecting displays, in particular clarity, the character of a great “game, “ in which no individual nor even everyone together can muster the stakes at risk in this “world-play”? Who could wonder that in such a time, when the world as we have known it is coming out of joint, the thought arises that now only the love of danger and “adventure” can be the way man secures the actual for himself?
Nietzsche says: “ . . . every higher man feels himself to be an adventurer. “2 In any case, it becomes clear that all interpretations of humanity and its determination, issuing from previous explanations of the world, lag behind what is. In the meantime, it has been decided that “the worker” and “the soldier” completely determine the face of the actual, all political systems in the narrow sense notwithstanding. These names are not meant here as names for a social class or profession. They indicate, in a unique fusion, the type of humanity taken as measure by the present world-convulsion for its fulfillment, that gives direction and foundation to one’s relation to beings. The names “worker” and “soldier” are thus metaphysical titles and name that form of the human fulfillment of the being of beings, now become manifest, which Nietzsche presciently grasped as the “will to power. “
This emerging formation of humanity was already clear to Nietzsche in the eighties of the last century, not from observations of social and political conditions, but from metaphysical knowledge about the selffulfilling and long-decided essential form of being as will to power.
Three sketches from the decade between 1880 and 1890 might suffice to prove this. We must forgo a more exact interpretation here.
In 1882 Nietzsche writes (Will to Power, 764): “The workers shall live one day as the bourgeoisie do now-but above them, distinguished by their freedom from wants, the higher caste: thus poorer and simpler, but in possession of power. “
In 1885/86 Nietzsche writes (Will to Power, 757): “Modern socialism wants to create the secular counterpart to Jesuitism: everyone a perfect instrument. But the purpose, the wherefore? has not yet been found.”
In November 1887/March 1888 Nietzsche writes (Will to Power, 763):
“From thefuture of the worker-workers should learn to feel like soldiers. An honorarium, an income, but no pay!
“No relation between payment and achievement! But to place the individual, each according to his kind, so that he can achieve the highest that lies within his realm.”3
In these sketches by Nietzsche the names “worker, “ “soldier, “ and “socialism” are already titles for the leading representatives of the main forms in which the will to power will be enacted!
“Workers” and “soldiers” open the gates to the actual. At the same time, they execute a transformation of human production in its basic structure; of what formerly was called “culture.” The latter, according to previous notions, is an instrument of “cultural politics.” Culture only exists insofar as it is plugged into [eingeschaltet] the operations that secure a basis for a form of domination. That we use the term “plug in” [einschalten] to name this connection, an expression from machine technology and machine utilization, is like an automatic proof of the actuality that finds words here. “Workers” and “soldiers” remain obviously conventional names that nevertheless can signify, roughly and in outline, the humanity now arising upon the earth. If the peasant transforms himself into a worker in the provisions industry, then this is the same process by which a leading scholar becomes the managing director of a research institute. But it would be backward and only half serious, thus not at all seriously thought out, to try to characterize these events in terms of past “political” ideas, e.g., as a “proletarianization, “ and to believe thereby that we had grasped the slightest thing. To interpret everything from what has been, and thus to exclude oneself from the realm of the already actual and its essential being, corresponds to natural human inertia. Only a dreamer and a visionary could want to deny that, in the age dawning upon the entire earth, man experiences real beings as a worker and soldier does, and makes available what alone is to count as a being.
Only those who are permanently ill-tempered and angry on principle could propose to stay essential decisions by flight into what has been, to whose past formation and preservation they have contributed nothing. Yet, genuine participation in the law of the age is also essentially other than the comportment that exhausts itself in advocating “optimism.” For mere optimism is only a concealed pessimism, a pessimism that avoids itself. In this age of the convulsion of the entire world pessimism and optimism remain, in the same way, powerless for what is necessary’ The sobriety of knowing and reflection upon what is are necessary above all. However, this sobriety includes recognizing the truth under which the history of the age stands. Sobriety also includes asking whether the uniqueness of this world-age demands of Dasein an originality for which having intellectual interests and attending to so-called cultural concerns, in addition to the life of action, do not suffice. For the genuine passion of sobriety the best optimism is too lame, every pessimism too blind. All this should indicate that the call to participate in the actual always stands under a different law; it does not each time guarantee a straightforward experience of what is. Certainly, today, “workers” and “soldiers” experience beings in helping to bring about their characteristic features.
ß7. Renouncing being-dealing with beings
But do “workers” and “soldiers, “ in virtue of this experience, also know the being of beings? No. Yet perhaps they no longer need to know it. Perhaps the being of beings has never been experienced by those who directly shape, produce, and represent beings. Perhaps being was always brought to knowledge merely “by the way, “ like something apparently “superfluous. “
If it were so, then within the realm of historical humanity, besides the boundless complexity and fullness of beings, this “superfluity, “ being, would still reveal itself. Then it would remain to ask whether this “superfluity” is also the gift of a surplus and a wealth, or whether it always remains merely useless, the poverty of emptiness-the emptiness that already announced itself to us distinctly enough in the connecting word “is.”
Without noticing it, we are again considering the difference between beings and being. Perhaps being cannot be so conveniently shoved aside, as the discussion of the copula seems to have succeeded in doing. Even when it is established that man knows nothing of being in all his experiences and dealings with beings, indeed that he needs to know nothing of being, then it is still by no means decided whether what he experiences before all beings, experiences differently and more originarily than any particular being, is what we call being. The remark that the word “is” means only an empty representation of something indeterminate and not further determinable can no longer suffice to decide what being “is” apart from beings.
Meanwhile, we have only given voice to the undeniable “fact” that the immediate experience of beings holds beings secure and therein finds contentment. One finds proof of “actuality” in the actual itself, equates the one (the actual) with the other (actuality), and, in case one still concedes a proper essence to “actuality, “ it is in the role of capturing the “universal representation” of the most universal-called being-in a word’s sound. One is content with beings, and renounces being so decisively that one does not allow this renunciation to count as such, but declares it to be a gain: the advantage, from now on, of not being disturbed by the “abstract” in dealing with beings. Where does this remarkable contentment come from?
Perhaps this complacency about the experience and cultivation of beings stems from the fact that man, in the midst of beings, thinks only about what he needs. Why should he need a discussion of the meaning of the word “is”? Indeed-it is of no use. Discussions about the “is” in the proposition therefore also remain useless, even if it should turn out that we are not dealing with mere words and mere verbal meanings. This reflection is devoted to something superfluous and perhaps even to an excess.
For this reason alone, we do not prematurely cast aside discussions of the “is” in the proposition. Perhaps something essential conceals itself here, especially if everything essential occurs “despite” all that is nonessential. Everything decisive is “despite” the ordinary, for the ordinary and usual recognizes and wants only its own kind.
Perhaps the previous discussion of the “is, “ where the “is” is understood as the copula, was only an ordinary discussion, made ordinary by our long being accustomed to thinking of so-called “grammar” as appropriate for imparting authoritative information about language and the word. Perhaps the ordinary must first of all be shaken, so that we receive a first sense of the superfluous. Thus, forsaking the beaten path of former opinion, we wish to take up anew the discussion of the “is” and “being. “
Recapitulation 1. Consideration of beings as a whole presupposes the essential inclusion of man in the difference between being and beings
We follow an ancient saying, and in so doing cast off the hasty presumption of a willful cleverness that would perhaps like merely to contrive a worldview or “represent” a particular standpoint. This saying goes:
p£~£T~ T0 ~V
“Take into care beings as a whole.”
This saying in no way serves as a timeless rule, but demands that we follow it by returning to the inception to which it belongs, and that we experience in the incipient a unique decision. Accordance with this decision does not mean imitating and renewing something earlier, but beginning something yet to come. Tofollow the saying means, at the same time and at once: remembering what is incipient and deciding what is yet to come. All this implies that we must single out Greek thought as a first beginning, but we can never prescribe it, as the “Classical, “ as a rule for ourselves.
Following the saying, we consider beings as a whole and see ourselves forced to acknowledge the possible and the necessary as beings. We must therefore give up the seductive identification of beings with the merely actual. The actual, to be sure, retains its priority in our experiences, opinions, and plans. But this priority does not necessarily entail the preeminence of the actual within the whole of beings. However, when we
experience this whole in terms of its possibilities and necessities, beyond the merely actual, it remains to be decided whether we have indeed already traversed its domain.
Meanwhile, we have noticed that in thinking beings we also “thereby” think being. The whole of beings is neither merely the sum of all beings nor is it already thought when we succeed in representing its “totality.” For if totality is not simply adventitious to the whole, but projects ahead of all beings as their determination (because it resonates through the whole of beings as “a being”), then totality itself is only a satellite of what distinguishes beings as beings. We call this “being.” In considering beings as a whole we think the whole as a being, and thus we already think it from being. We differentiate each time, without knowing how or why or wherefore, beings and being.
Obviously we do not first make this differentiation and carry it with us like a piece of information, like an arbitrary differentiation such as that between red and green. Rather, we move within this differentiation of beings and being just as we stay, in advance, within the difference between right and left, where the differentia are of the same kind and concern a particular realm of the spatial.
If we need evidence that we always remain and encounter ourselves within this differentiation of beings and being, it suffices to note that we continually name being in our comportment toward beings when we say “is.” Whether we actually assert propositions that contain this word “is” or silently busy and concern ourselves with beings is all the same. That we must continually say “is” whenever we speak indicates that what we “so” name, precisely being, wants to be put into a word, into a word that, admittedly, we always at the same time mis-hear. This failure to recognize the “is” resembles the all too familiar and monotonous tick of the clock within the usual sphere of everyday residing. We first hear the motion of the clock when it stands still. In just this way, we become aware of the “is” and what it says when an interruption intrudes upon speaking. To be sure, “we” can experience this interruption only hypothetically, only as possible, never as actual. We can posit the case where we utterly fail to say or even merely think the “is.” What would happen then, each may work out at first for himself. It suffices simply to consider “externally” any series of utterances whatsoever in which we directly and continually say the insignificant word “is.”
We consider beings as a whole, and thereby think being. Thus, in thinking, we move within the differentiation between beings and being. Not that we apply this differentiation and refer to it like a familiar rule. We are in accordance with it without actually knowing of it or having a concept of its essence and essential ground. Perhaps it is already too much and inappropriate when we speak of the differentiation between beings and being in the first place. For in this way a difference is already objectified without our being able to specify where it belongs, whether it only subsists because we carry it out, or whether man carries it out because something essential determines him-to which we want to cling fast, so to speak, under the empty name of the differentiation between beings and being. For otherwise many things are differentiated. What all isn’t distinguishable and addressed as a differentiation! Talk of the differentiation is supposed to indicate, however, that this differentiation is the origin of all differences.
The differentiation / “beings and being” / contains an indication that after all “being” and “beings” harbor within themselves the relation to being. How exclusively we refer to being in every attitude toward beings is evidenced by our saying “is.”
2. Wealth and poverty of meaning in the “is”
A survey of the quoted propositions made clear that the “is” in a proposition means something complex. A short pause at Goethe’s verse “Above all summits/Is rest” showed beyond this that the “is” announces, in all simplicity, the inexhaustibility of a wealth to which we are not immediately equal.
The noun and name “being” names what we mean by the “is.” In the wealth of meaning in the “is, “ the essential fullness of being shows itself. But when we look closely, it appears as if the “is” does not derive its complexity of meaning from the fullness of being, but always only from the fact that each time a different being, man, color, dog, etc., is named. Taken by itself, the “is, “ in fact, remains empty. Indeed, it must be empty
according to its essence, like the word for the empty and indeterminate itself. For the “is” has the verbal character of the “copula” in the proposition. As this “connection, “ it must for its part be unbound and leave everything open and indeterminate, in order to be able to conjoin completely different beings. Thus the opposite of the previous conclusion shows itself: the “is” does not distinguish itself through fullness of meaning, but through poverty of meaning. The same holds even more, and even more properly, for the noun and name “being.” Here emptiness and indeterminacy are made into a fetish. It looks as though being is not only “something” next to beings, but being and what constitutes the being of beings is the most real being. Thus already at the beginning of metaphysics Plato conceived the being of beings as the authentic being of all beings (OVT035 OV). By contrast, at the end of Western metaphysics, and that means Platonism, Nietzsche recognized being not as the most real but as the most negative. Nietzsche grasped being as the last breath of a vaporizing reality.
This contradictory interpretation of the being of beings, according to which being “is” first the most real and then the utmost nullity, shows two contrary versions of being. And yet it is a matter of the same interpretation. Its self-sameness is articulated in a fundamental doctrine of Western metaphysics. According to this, being is the most universal of the universal (KOlVOTaTOV). The most universal, which does not permit anything more universal for its determination, is the most indeterminate and emptiest. If it is so with being, then one side of the differentiation, that of being, loses weight against the other, that of beings. The one side becomes superfluous and there is no longer a distinction to be made.
3. Equating dealing with the actual with considering beings as a whole
If we are now still supposed to follow the saying and consider beings as a whole, then the task is clear and the direction is firm: we can and must cling to beings. “Take into care beings as a whole” now has a univocal sense, which suggests itself on its own and does not require any special reflection: stick to facts, deal with the actual and its actualization, and
secure its effectiveness. Equating dealing with the actual with considering beings as a whole completely loses all questionability when we recognize, at the same time, that the correct recognition indeed lies only in such dealings. Acting and effecting bring to experience what the actual is, and thus what beings themselves are. Acting, however, is always accompanied by thefreedom from whence man comports himself toward beings. Freedom is now participation in the law of the age. Nietzsche expressed its more determinate essence in the passage cited from Twilight of the Idols:
For what is freedom? That one has the will to self-responsibility.4
This answer of Nietzsche’s sounds like Kant’s answer to the same question. Freedom is self-legislation, is placing oneself under the law of the self.
Nietzsche’s answer not only sounds Kantian, it also thinks (in the essential sense) in a Kantian, i.e., modern, way. And yet Nietzsche thinks differently than Kant. For everything depends upon what the “self” means here, whose self-responsibility we are talking about. Being as self is the essence of the “subject.” In distinction from but in internal connection with Kant, Nietzsche conceives being a self as the will to power. Freedom as will to self-responsibility then means: freedom as will to fulfill the “will to power.” However, since according to Nietzsche the will to power is not only the being of “man, “ but also the being of atoms no less than the being of animals, since it is no less the essence of the political than the essence of art, freedom as the will to the will to power means the same as participation in the actuality of the actual.
4. The unthought residence of man in the distinction between being and beings
We reflect upon what the ancient saying , u£~£Ta TO ~r~av says: “Take into care beings as a whole.” The reflection leads us to recognize
something that until now we either did not realize at all or ignored, namely, that we think “being” everywhere and always, wherever and whenever in the midst of beings we comport ourselves toward beings, and are thereby beings ourselves, and thus comport ourselves toward ourselves at the same time. Briefly: we have our residence in the distinction between beings and being.
This domain of residence appears to us at first like something negative when we consider that the home ground, the place of a people and similar narrower or wider horizons, finally the earth itself, actually bear our residing and grant all comportment toward beings its expanse. But what would all of this, home and earth, be, if it did not reveal itself to us as beings, if beings as such and therefore beings in their mode of being did not permeate and charge our attunement? That the distinction between beings and being looks to us (and that means to our ordinary, superficial opining and hurried “thinking”) like something indifferent and negative is indeed not suffficient evidence that this distinction could not perhaps be something entirely different in its essence, whose dignity we could never overestimate, but rather, at best, and to our own detriment, we must always underestimate.
This distinction between beings and being holds the differentia apart from one another, and this apartness is in itself an extension and an expanse that we must recognize as the space of all spaces-so far as we may still use this name “space” at all here, which indeed means only a particular type of apartness.
At first, certainly, we know nothing of this distinction. What it consists in remains hidden. Whether what constitutes its essence is at all characterized by means of the code word “distinction” remains undecided, indeed, unasked. For “distinction” is many things. Distinction is, for example, everything opposed to something that we encounter among beings. Metaphysics also finds opposition and distinction within being and its essence (cf. German Idealism). What is here called “the distinction” between beings and being is more essential than all differences in beings and all oppositions in being.
SECOND DIVISION Guidewords for Reflection upon Being ß8. Being is the emptiest and at the same time a surplus
Adhering to what was said before, when we consider afresh the “is” as the connecting word in a proposition we must already acknowledge two things. The “is” indicates an emptiness in which reflection finds no support. However, at the same time, the “is” divulges a wealth within which the being of beings pronounces itself.
Let us think again upon Goethe’s verse, which, in terms of content, speaks only of “mountainpeaks” and “above” and “rest.” And yet, the “is” names something that cannot be determined by what is named and nameable through this content. Thus precisely in the “is” a peculiar claim is spoken, which flows from its own source and cannot be exhausted or drained by the naming of various beings. Therefore the very slightness of the verse says much, indeed still “more” than an extended description.
In the “is” a surplus is put into words. If we replace the “is” with the name of the noun “being, “ then, if we consider what is said in its unity, we stand before the question: Is “being” only the emptiest, as measured against each being thus-and-thus determined? Or is being a surplus for all beings, which leaves each being infinitely far behind? Or is being perhaps yet both, the emptiest as well as the surplus? Being would then be, in its very essence, its own opposite. We would then have to acknowledge something like a discord within being itself.
If, however, this discordant character belongs to being itself, and constitutes its essential character, then being cannot be split in the sense of a destruction of its essence. What is discordant must then be held together in the unity of an essence. But we would be overhasty to speak directly about an essential discordance of being, and to presume to decide about the essence of being solely on the grounds of the double character of the “is” (that it announces itself at once as emptiness and surplus). Above all, we resist the temptation to take this emerging discordance within being as the occasion for a dialectical accounting of being, and thus to choke off all reflection. We want at first only to carry out a reflection, and so to clarify our relation to the being of beings. We concern ourselves with this clarification of our relation to the being of beings in order first to come into position to perceive, with a certain clarity, the claim of that saying:
p£~£Ta TO ~OV.
From the just-completed reflection, however, we first discern this about being: Being is the emptiest and at the same time a surplus, out of which all beings, those that are familiar and experienced as well as those unfamiliar and yet to be experienced, are granted their respective modes of being.
ß9. Being is the most common and at the same time unique
If we follow this indication of being in all beings, we immediately find that being is encountered in every being uniformly and without difference. Being is common to all beings and thus is the most common.
The most common is without every distinction: the stone is, the tree is, the animal is, and man is, the “world” is, and God “is.” Against this thoroughly “uniform” “is, “ and in contrast to this uniformity and leveling of being, many levels and ranks show themselves within beings, which themselves allow the most diverse arrangements. We can progress from the lifeless, from dust and sand and the motionlessness of stone, to the “living” of plants and animals, beyond this to free men, and yet beyond this to demigods and gods. We could also reverse the order of rank among beings and declare what one ordinarily calls “spirit” and the “spiritual” to be only a discharge of electrical phenomena and an excretion of materials whose composition, to be sure, chemistry has not yet discovered but will discover one day. Or, we can appoint those beings that we call “living” to the highest rank and hold “life” to be the actual and figure everything material into it, and incorporate into it the “spiritual” as well, solely as a tool for “life.” Nevertheless, being is each time thoroughly common in all beings and thus the most common. At the same time, however, a cursory reflection just as soon encounters the opposite of this characterization of being. However one being might surpass another, as a being it remains equal to the other, hence it has in the other its own equivalent. Every being has in every being, insofar as it is a being, its equal. The tree in front of the house is a different being than the house, but a being; the house is other than a man, but a being. All beings are thrown into the manifoldness of respective beings, separated from one another, and dispersed into a vast multiplicity. In experiencing beings we pass through many kinds of things. And yet, everywhere and without exception, beingsf~nd in each being their equal. How does it stand, however, with being?
Being has its equal nowhere and nohow. Being is, over and against all beings, unique.
Nothing corresponds to being. Being is not given a second time. There are certainly different modes of being, but precisely of being, which is never respectively this and that and thus constantly a plurality like beings. The uniqueness of being has incomparability as a consequence. Beings can always be compared with beings and placed into equivalence with one another. However, being is never merely what is equivalent in the manifold beings stone, plant, animal, man, God. For to be what is equivalent it would have to be multiple. Being, by contrast, is everywhere the same, namely, itself. In order to be equivalent, something other and additional is required. To be the same, only uniqueness is needed. As the same and unique, being is, of course, forever different in and from itself. But what is differentiated is not different in the sense that being could be being twice over and repeatedly, and would be split and divided into multiplicity. Being is distinguished by uniqueness in a unique way, incomparable with any other distinction. Being in its uniqueness-and in addition to this, beings in their multiplicity.
But is there not a third thing, which we must distinguish in addition to being and beings-the Nothing?
One could cut off this question with the observation that the Nothing precisely is not, and therefore there is no sense or reason to speak of a third thing here. It is indeed correct that the Nothing is not a being and can never and nowhere be made into a being, for we think the Nothing as the negation of beings purely and simply. But the question remains whether the Nothing itself consists in the negation of beings, or whether the negation of beings is simply a representation of the Nothing, which the Nothing requires of us when we set out to think it. For the Nothing is certainly no being, but nevertheless “there is given” [es gibt] the Nothing. We say here “there is given” the Nothing, but we cannot, at present, determine more closely who or what gives the Nothing. We can also say the Nothing presences [west], in order to indicate that the Nothing is not merely the absence and lack of beings. If the Nothing were only something indifferently negative, how could we understand, for example, horror and terror before the Nothing and nihilation? Terror before the Nothing-.
The Nothing does not first need beings and a being in order to presence, as if it would presence only if beings were eliminated in advance. The Nothing is not the result of such an elimination. There is given the Nothing in spite of the fact that beings are. And perhaps it is one of the greatest of human errors to believe oneself always secure before the Nothing so long as beings can be encountered and dealt with and retained. Perhaps the predominance of this error is a main reason for blindness visa-vis the Nothing, which cannot affect beings, and least of all when beings become more and more “existant” [seiender]. Perhaps the belief that the Nothing is just “nothing” is also the main support for a popular piece of intelligence, namely: every reflection upon the Nothing leads to nothingness and endangers the legitimate trust in beings.
If, however, the Nothing is obviously not a being, we cannot at all say that it “is.” Nevertheless, “there is given” the Nothing. We ask again: what does “there is given” mean here? What is given “is” yet somehow something. But the Nothing is not “something, “ jut nothing. Here we easily fall into the danger of playing with words. People make use of the
justifiable indication of this danger in order to banish all thought “about” the Nothing as fatal. But the danger is no less that, because we seem to be merely playing around with words, we take the Nothing too lightly and fail to recognize that there is given the Nothing. If this should be the case, we would indeed have to say that the Nothing is. But if we say this we make the Nothing into a being and twist it into the opposite of itself. Or else the “is” we use when we say “the Nothing is” means something other than when we say “beings are.” Perhaps we merely cling obstinately to an untested everyday assumption when we insist that the “is” is used in the same sense in the propositions “beings are” and “the Nothing is.” A more penetrating reflection might make us suddenly realize that the Nothing does not need beings in order to be the Nothing as a result of their elimination.
The Nothing does not need beings. Certainly, however, the Nothing needs being. That the Nothing needs precisely being, and without being must remain without essence, remains strange and shocking to the ordinary understanding. Indeed, perhaps the Nothing is even the same as being. For the uniqueness of being can never be endangered by the Nothing, because the Nothing “is” not something other than being, but this itself. Does not what we said about being also hold for the Nothing: that it is unique and incomparable? The incontrovertible incomparability of the Nothing is evidence that its essence belongs to being and confirms being’s uniqueness.
That the Nothing “is” the same as being, that the Nothing is related in its essence to being, if not essentially one with it, we can also surmise from what has already been said about being: “Being is the emptiest.” Is the Nothing not the emptiest emptiness? The Nothing also shares uniqueness with being in this respect.
Hence we discern from our considerations so far: Being is the emptiest and at the same time a surplus. Being is the most common of all and at the same time unique.
What we say about being in such propositions, here and in what follows, cannot count as the sufficiently presented and demonstrated “truth” about being. Certainly, however, we take these propositions as
guidewordsfor the reftection upon being, which we also think whenever and however we think back, in remembering, to the ancient saying.
ß10. Being is the most intelligible and at the same time concealment
The very preliminary discussions of being in respect to the “is” in a proposition have already taught us that we understand the “is” and “being” everywhere and immediately. For this we do not need any special experiences and ratiocinations. The intelligibility of the “is” in a proposition remains for us so familiar and certain in advance that at first we pay no special attention to it at all. In addition, where we actually concern ourselves with the explanation of beings and must halt before an “unintelligible” being, where our investigations among beings find their limit, even there the unexplained being remains for us embedded within a circuit of the intelligible. This is evidenced for the most part in that we arrange the unintelligible being immediately within the intelligible, and most often in an already familiar fashion.
When, for instance, in respect to a domain of beings, e.g., nature, the confidence prevails that what is hitherto unexplained and unexplainable will yet be explained with time and in the course of human progress, behind this confidence already stands the procedure that assumes the intelligibility of being and beings. In our time we can easily give an especially impressive example of the limitless power of confidence in respect to the intelligibility of beings. (See the article by Pascual Jordan, “Am Rande der Welt.”s The article is also a revealing example of the inner decadence of today’s “science.” Take especially the practical application at the conclusion! By contrast, take the serious and careful essay by C. F. v. Weizsacker, “Die Physik der Gegenwart und das physikalische Weltbild.”)6
In the realm of atomic processes, modern atomic and quantum physics have discovered events where the discharges observable in this realm as a “statistical average” do conform to certain rules, yet in particular are not “foreseeable.” What is “unforeseeable, “ i.e., what cannot be computed in advance from within the purview of physical calculation, shows itself each time as something new and cannot be explained by something else. Whatever cannot be explained as a consequence of an antecedent other, as antecedent, lacks a cause. In the field of atomic physics, one says, the law of causality is invalid. This invalidity of the law of causality, one believes, is established in a purely physical way by research. However, one does not rest content with this allegedly enormous discovery, which, furthermore, serves to refute Kant and all previous philosophy. One applies the statement of the invalidity of the causal law in the atomic realm immediately to the “positive” realm. When something is “uncaused” by something else and is thus new, originating from itself, it is then “spontaneous, “ and if spontaneous, “free.” One speaks therefore of the “peculiar” freedom of action belonging to the microphysical structure.
(The discharge of atomic processes is, to be sure, not “peculiar.” Only the physics is “peculiar” which makes a thoughtless fool of itself with such assertions, and does not anticipate how it must betray its essential superficiality, the result of which is that it cannot decide anything “for” or “ against “ “ causality. “ )
But with that, one might think physics has secured a domain for physical research in which the “living” and the “spiritual, “ and everything characterized by “freedom, “ fit in perfectly. Thus opens the “promising” vista that one day “human freedom” can also be proven by “natural science” to be a “natural-scientific fact.” I am not relating fictional stories, nor reporting the fancies of a half-educated dreamer who patches together a “worldview” from “books” he has arbitrarily picked up. I am reporting the scientific conviction of today’s physicists, who as researchers place the “exactness” of thought above everything, whose work is already confirmed by unforeseen technical success and presumably will continue to be confirmed in ways none of us anticipate. However, because mere success is never a proof of truth but is always the “consequence” of a grounding principle whose truth must first be questioned and which can never be decided by the continually dependent result, the success of today’s “science” is no argument for its truth, and is not something that could keep us from asking a question.
What is happening here? What commonly occurs to one in representing the atomic realm, and what is taken as the fundamental determination of the being of the physical domain, is held to be the intellegible per se, and one arranges under it everything else. One speaks, without thinking, of “actions” and “freedom of action” in reference to atoms, and believes, therefore, one has penetrated into the domain of the organic. One already dreams of a “quantum biology” grounded by “quantum physics.” How unquestioned these opinions of the researchers are is shown most clearly in that they believe themselves far superior to the socalled materialists with this type of research and approach. In contrast with the materialists, one grants validity to “freedom.” However, one does not see that one equates freedom with physical unpredictability, and therefore physically pre-interprets everything human. Above all, one does not see that a privation lies in the determination of the unpredictable, and that this cannot be without the positivity of predictability, that means of causality. Causality is not cvercome. On the contrary, it is confirmed to the utmost, only transformed, and, strictly speaking, ascertainable in the usual way.
One finds this procedure to be in order. For one is of the opinion that naturally everyone knows, offthe street so to speak, what “freedom” and “spirit” and such things are, for one has and is these things oneself every day. Whereas, naturally, for example, an understanding of the mathematics of wave mechanics is accessible to only a very few mortals, and requires a Herculean effort and a corresponding technical preparation. But why should a physicist, who is also a human being, not know at the same time what is essential to human freedom and everything else that concerns man, and what can be discovered about it? Why shouldn’t everyone be informed about all of this and about the being of beings in general? This attitude of the sciences, and these claims that we constantly encounter everywhere in modified forms, state unequivocally that for us the being of beings is the most intelligible thing of all. We do not remember ever having really learned what being “is” and means. To the contrary, we must indeed strive step by step for the cognizance of and acquaintance with particular beings. Whence stems as well the strange state of affairs wherein we require the highest exactitude for the study of beings, and above all, of “nature, “ and to that end set into motion gigantic apparatuses, whereas for the determination of being any arbitrary and approximate notion may and does suffice. That science, e.g., must put into operation complicated investigations in order historiologically to secure a historical fact is understandable. But it is no less understandable that any vague notions, wherever they may come from, are sufficient for judgments to be made and agreement to be found about the fundamental appearances of history, about human freedom, about the essence of power, about art, and about poetry. Respect for facts and for the exact determinations of beings must “naturally” be required. If, however, what is essential to beings, therefore to being, is abandoned to the claims of arbitrary notions, there is no occasion for reservations. All of this, and many similar things in human comportment, speak for the fact that being, as distinguished from beings, is the most intelligible. The intelligibility of being has, we do not know how and when, simply come our way.
However, when we are supposed to say expressly what we understand by such “most intelligible” being, and that means what we think with the word “being, “ and that means what we “grasp” being as, then we are suddenly at a loss. Suddenly it is shown to us that we not only have no concept for this most intelligible, for being, we also do not see how we are still supposed to grasp “something” here with respect to being. Within beings, the task and the way out remain for us to trace the given being back to another being that we take to be clearer and more familiar, and through this reduction to explain it, and to content ourselves with such an explanation. However, where it is a matter of grasping being, the way out by means of a being is denied to us if we earnestly stick to the question. For every being is, as such, already determined by being and lays claim to this for itself. Next to (praeter) any one being “are, “ to be sure, always various other beings, but besides being “there is given” at most the Nothing. Should we not, then, attempt to determine being from the Nothing?
However, the Nothing is itself the indeterminate per se. How should it offer something in terms of which we grasp being? This way, as well, leads
to no essential determination of being. Being thus denies itself every concept and every determination and illumination, and does so in every respect and for every attempt at an explanation. Being simply withholds itself from any grasping on the basis of beings. If we say that being simply withholds itself, then, yet again, we are saying something about being. This essence belongs to being: to withhold itself from explananon on the basis of beings. Withholding itsef, it removes itself from determinacy, from manifestness. Withdrawing from manifestness, it conceals itself. Self-concealment belongs to being. If we wish to acknowledge this, then we must say: Being itself “is” concealment. Therefore, we must adhere to the following.
Being is the emptiest and at the same time a surplus.
Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness. Being is the most intelligible and at the same time concealment.
ß11. Beir~g is the most worn-out and at the same time the origin
If we now consider that being conceals itself, indeed that selfconcealment belongs to being’s essence, it might seem once again as if being remains completely and necessarily withdrawn from us. But again, it can only seem so. For we lay claim to being everywhere, wherever and whenever we experience beings, deal with them and interrogate them, or merely leave them alone. We need being because we need it in all relations to beings. In this constant and multiple use, being is in a certain way expended.
And yet we cannot say that being is used up in this expenditure. Being remains constantly available to us. Would we wish to maintain, however, that this use of being, which we constantly rely upon, leaves being so untouched? Is not being at least consumed in use? Does not the indifference of the “is, “ which occurs in all saying, attest to the wornness of what we thus name?
Being is certainly not grasped, but it is nevertheless worn-out and thus also “empty” and “common.” Being is the most worn-out.
“Being” stands everywhere and at each moment in our understanding as what is most self-understood. It is thus the most worn-out coin with which we constantly pay for every relation to beings, without which payment no relation to beings as beings would be allotted us. Being, the most worn-out and the most indifferent! And yet: we do not throw the “is” away; we also never become weary of the being of beings. Even where one might sometimes wish, oneself, no longer to be, ennui pertains only to oneself as this existing human being, but not to being. Even in that most extreme satiety that secretly remains a wishing, and wishes there might be the Nothing instead of beings, even there being remains the only thing called upon that resists expenditure and consumption. For also where we expect that it would be preferable for the Nothing to be, the last saving grasp is aimed at the most worn-out-at being. Therefore being can never become wornout to the point of complete exhaustion and disparagement. On the contrary, in the extremity of the desired annihilation of all beings, and precisely here, being must appear. It appears here as something unprecedented and untouched, from out of which stem all beings and even their possible annihilation. Being first lets every being be as such, that means to spring loose and away, to be a being, and as such to be “itself.” Being lets every being as such originate. Being is the origin. Being is the emptiest and at the same time a surplus.
Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness. Being is the most intelligible and at the same time concealment.
Being is the most worn-out and at the same time the origin.
ß12. Being is the most reliable and at the same time the non-ground
Whenever, whichever way, and to whatever extent beings become questionable and uncertain to us, we do not doubt being itself. Whether this or that being is, whether this being is so or that being is otherwise, may remain undecided, indeed undecidable in specific cases. Through all of the wavering uncertainty of beings, being, by contrast, offers reliability. For how could we doubt beings in whatever respect if we could not rely in the first place upon what is called “being”?
Being is the most reliable, and so unconditionally reliable that, in all spheres of our comportment toward beings, we do not ever become clear as to the trust we everywhere place upon it.
Nevertheless, if we ever wanted to ground our plans and recourses among beings-our using and shaping of things-immediately upon being, if we wanted to assess the reliability of the everyday according to how being is grounded in its essence there, and how this essence is familiar to us, then we must just as soon experience that none of our intentions and attitudes can be built directly upon being. Being, otherwise constantly used and called upon, offers us no foundation and no ground upon which we can immediately place whatever we erect, undertake, and bring about every day. Being thus appears as the groundless, as something that continually gives way, offers no support, and denies every ground and basis. Being is the refusal of every expectation that it could serve as a ground. Being everywhere turns out to be the non-ground.
Being is the most worn-out and at the same time the origin.
Being is the most reliable and at the same time the non-ground.
ß13. Being is the most said and at the same time a keeping silent
Because we first depend upon being insofar as we are given over to beings and are released into beings, this dependence constantly and everywhere is put into word. And this not only in the pervasive and immeasurably frequent use of its explicit names, such as “is” and “are” and “was” and “shall be” and “has been.” In each “tense-word” of language we name being.
If we say “it rains, “ we mean that rain “is” here and now. In addition, we name beings in every noun and adjective, and thus name the being of beings along with them. “The war”: the being that “is” now. It is sufficient to name a “being, “ and we mean, in a merely approximate yet portentous thinking, the being of this being. We name being along with it. Being is said along with every word and verbal articulation, if not named each time with its own name. Speaking says being “along with, “ not as an addition and a supplement that could just as well be left out, but as the pregiving of what always first permits the naming of beings. Being is “said” even where we silently act, where, among beings, we wordlessly decide about beings, and, without actually naming them, comport ourselves toward beings. In the same way, even where we are left “completely speechless, “ we “say” being. Being is the most said in all saying, because everything sayable is only to be said in being (and only “truth” and its seriousness are sayable).
Must not being, due to its multiple and constant saying, be already so articulated and well-known that its essence lies uncovered before us in complete determinacy? But what if the most said in saying kept its essence secret, if being kept to itself in the disclosure of its essence, and this not only occasionally and incidentally but according to its essence? Then not only would concealment belong to being, but concealment would have a marked relation to “saying” and would be silence. Then being would consist in keeping its essence silent. Because being remains the most said in every word, it would be silence per se, that essential silence from out of which a word first issues and must issue in breaking this silence. From this break, and as such a break, every word would have its own constellation, and following from this, the stamp of its sound and resonance. As silence, being would also be the origin of language.
If this is accurate, then we understand why an animal does not speak and no other “living thing” can speak. The animal does not speak because silence is impossible for it, and an animal cannot be silent because it has no relation to what can be kept silent about, i.e., to keeping silent, i.e., to concealment, i.e., to being. For “speaking, “ if the word comes from such an origin, is not some arbitrary appearance and condition that we discern in man as one capability among others, like seeing and hearing, grasping and locomotion. For language stands in an essential relation to the uniqueness of being. Being itself obliges us to the next guideword: Being is the most reliable and at the same time the non-ground.
Being is the most said and at the same time a keeping silent.
ß14. Being is the mostforgotten and at the same time remembrance
It becomes clearer and clearer to us how being everywhere remains the closest in all relations to beings, and yet being is entirely passed over in favor of beings, in whom all willing and knowing seeks its fulfillment. No wonder we forget being on account of beings and their multitude, forget
it as something worthy of any consideration at all. Insofar as a claim upon being is awakened and an inquiry about it is made, the indication immediately comes forth that being indeed counts as the most intelligible, but beyond this is not further determinable. Being is thus forgotten in respect to its question-worthiness and indeed so fundamentally forgotten that we even forget this forgetting. It pertains to the essence of forgetting that it forgets itself, i.e., twists itself more and more into its own vortex. Hence, we must admit: Being is, among all that is worthy of interrogation and consideration, the mostforgotten.
If we wanted to remain exclusively with this observation, being would obviously never and nowhere have to concern us. But if we concede for one moment the possibility, if we once allow the point that being per se has sunk into the still concealed Nothing of forgetfulness, if we seriously posit the case that being has been completely stricken from our knowing, how could we then encounter the smallest and most fleeting being as a being, how could we ever experience ourselves as a being?
We constantly comport ourselves toward beings and are beings. We discern not only about ourselves that we are beings, but about our being that we are concerned, one way or another, with ourselves and how we are. Being concerns us, whether it is a matter of the being that we are ourselves or those beings that we are not and never can be. We are always that being that is concerned with being, who, thus concerned and struck, finds in being what is most reliable. Being remains everywhere reliable, and yet, considered in respect to its rank within what is worthy of reflection, it is the most forgotten. Despite this forgottenness, however, it remains in everyday comportment not only the reliable, but is, prior to that, already something that grants us awareness of beings and permits us to be beings in the midst of beings. Being allows us in every respect to be aware of beings and of each in its own way. Being re-members [Er-innert] us into beings and about beings, so that everything we encounter, whether experienced as present or past or future, each time first becomes and remains evident as a being through the re-membrance of being. Being thus remembers essentially. Being is itself what re-members, is the authentic remembrance.
We must indeed consider that being itself is what remembers, not only something about which we remember, to which we can always return as something already familiar in the sense of Plato’s avorllv~6l6. Plato’s doctrine says only how we comport ourselves toward the being of beings, when we assess this comportment according to the relation in which we otherwise stand to “beings.” Now, however, we must perceive that being is not an “object” of possible remembrance for us, but is itself what authentically remembers, what allows all awareness of anything that comes into the Open as a being.
Being is the most said and at the same time a keeping silent.
Being is the most forgotten and at the same time remembrance.
ß15. Being is the most constraining and at the same time liberation
Even though being (as what is emptiest and most worn-out) might sink from the sphere of “reflection” that otherwise remains, and completely disappear into the indifference of forgetting in which even this indifference is annihilated, everywhere being once again constrains us. And indeed it constrains us continually, so that beings meet us and carry us away, surpass us and flatten us, burden us and uplift us. For if, prior to all beings, being and only being allows each to be a being, then each being remains, however it might concern and affect us, infinitely far behind the constraint of being itself. No multitude of beings ever surpasses the “force” that comes from being and presences as being. Even where all beings no longer concern us, become indifferent, and give themselves over to empty caprice, even there the force of being reigns. Because that which constrains surpasses everything in its force, it gives way before no being and in no being, but exacts from each that as a being it remains forced into being. Being is the most constraining, wherever, whenever, and however a being might be.
And yet: we do not “detect” the force of being, but at most an impact and a pressing from the side of beings. Despite that constraint, being is as if it “were” rather not “there, “ and therefore precisely like “the Nothing.” We attempt in vain to find being there and yonder. Being plays around us and through us, as if inexperienceable. But this play constantly has in everything the singular univocity of the unique. For is not “being” that which has already placed us “there, “ where beings as such are differentiated from one another? Is not being that which opens, that which first unlocks the Openness of a “there, “ in which the possibility is hrst granted that beings are differentiated from being, that beings and being are set apart from each other?
Being first sets being and beings apart, and places us into this apartness and into the free. Placement into this setting apart of being and beings is liberation into belongingness to being. This liberation liberates so that we are free “before” beings and in their midst, free “toward” beings, “free” from them, “free” for them, and thus we have the possibility to be ourselves. Placement into being is liberation into freedom. This liberation alone is the essence of freedom.
Being is the mostforgotten and at the same time remembrance. Being is the most constraining and at the same time liberation.
ß16. Unifying reflection upon being in the sequence of guidewords
If we pull together the previously attempted reflection upon being in the sequence of the guidewords, we will become attentive and more collected for what at first might only appear like an empty sound:
Being is the emptiest and the most common of all.
Being is the most intelligible and the most worn-out. Being is the most reliable and the most said.
Being is the mostforgotten and the most constraining.
At the same time, however: Being is a surplus and uniqueness. Being is concealment and the origin. Being is the non-ground and a keeping silent. Being is remembrance and liberation.
The “is” reveals itself as something that apparently only escapes from us as something said, as something that in truth holds us in its essence, and yes, even in its non-essence (the forgetting of being).
Are we simply asserting and arranging arbitrary determinations of being here, and using the no less simple device of opposition to multiply each one by its opposite? A decision regarding this plausible opinion must be postponed. Before that, we must get beyond the poverty in which common opinion, and a twothousand-year-old metaphysical thinking as well, present “being.”
We only want to “experience” this: that when we follow the saying p£~£Ta 10 nav and consider beings as a whole, we stand immediately in the difference between beings and being, that herewith being announces an essential fullness, assuming that we only begin to think being itself.
But have we now in fact thought being itself?
Recapitulation Guidewords about Being 1. Being is empty as an abstract concept and at the same time a surplus
In the first attempt to trace this distinction between being and beings, and thereby to illuminate above all what “being” says here, we at first follow the long habituation of a firmly ingrained way of thinking. This expresses itself in the doctrine that being is the name for the “most abstract” of all concepts. Seen thus, the distinction between beings and being, when we attempt to assess it evenly according to both of its “sides, “ is in truth such that all weight falls on the side of beings. For being is, like a bothersome (if also in a certain respect indispensable) abstraction, only tolerated as an appendage and a shadow of beings. For itself, being is nothing that could evenly and equitably maintain itself “next” to beings and offer a satisfactory basis for reflection. Being is like the fleeting shadow of a cloud floating over the land of beings, without effecting anything or leaving behind any trace. The shadowy character of being confirms, at best, the solidity that belongs solely to beings.
If this is so, then it is also clear wherein, alone, the genuine fulfillment of the guideword , u£~£Ta lo 7rav would consist: namely, in exclusively experiencing and shaping and dealing with beings. The now emerging age of modernity indeed has its undeniable passion in that it grasps all experiencing, pursuing, planning, and constructing of the actual in all respects unconditionally, and that it knows this unconditionedness correctly as the new, and values it as something hitherto not yet willed on earth and as something unique that was never possible until now. The superiority of beings over being has been decided.
Yet the question still remains as to whether or not here, and just here, in this unconditional affrmation of beings (which seems to side exclusively with beings at the expense of being), whether or not here a decision about being holds sway. Thus it remains to be asked whether or not being is precisely something other than merely a name for the most empty concept, whether being is not always and actually a surplus from which all fullness of beings, however they might present themselves, originates. It remains to be asked whether being is not indeed both the emptiness that incontestably shows itself in the most general concept, and the surplus that announces itself to us, for example, in Geothe’s verse. Being would then be not only something abstracted and set aside from beings, but contrarily, and at the same time, it would be what exercises its essence in each being everywhere and above all.
2. Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness (The sameness of being and nothing)
In reflecting upon the distinction between beings and being, we asked about being. The previous consideration led to a second guideword about being: Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness.
We continually encounter in all beings, may they be completely different in content and mode, this uniformity: that they are. Thus it might seem as if being had everywhere dispersed and exhausted itself in being the most commonplace in the land of the most various beings. Because of its uniformity, being was not at all conspicuous to us at first. This “commonness” indeed belongs to being; but being does not exhaust itself in it. For at the same time being is, by contrast, uniqueness. Being presences only as something unique, whereas beings are here this and here that, here the one and not the other. Beings always have their equal. Being, however, is incomparable. Therefore it cannot be said that being is, in the sense of the aforementioned commonality, the same in all beings. Rather, being, as the unique, is always the Same. As this sameness, it does not exclude differences. What is in itself and everywhere the same need not, according to its essence, remain merely monotonous. There are various modes of the same being, but there is no various being in the sense that being could break up into the something multiple and numerous.
From the development of the Western doctrine of the being of beings (metaphysics) a much-cited proposition has emerged, above all in its scholastic form: omne ens est unum. (Every being is one.) To what extent this proposition goes back to Greek thinking about beings, and in what respect it presents a transformation of the same, cannot be discussed here. Only this is to be remembered: that Greek thinking equates beings, lo ov, early on with To £V, the one, and indeed already in pre-Platonic thinking being is distinguished by “unity.” Until today, “philosophy” has neglected to reflect at all upon what the ancient thinkers mean with this £V. Above all, it does not ask why, at the inception of Western thought, “unity” is so decisively attributed to beings as their essential feature.
The later proposition of scholastic philosophy, omne ens est unum, may not be equated with the guideword that has sprung from our reflection: Being is uniqueness. For the former proposition deals with beings (ens), not with being as such, and says in truth that beings are always manifold. The proposition means: Every being is always one and as one it is respectively one to another. Therefore each being is always the other to each respective one. Omne ens est unum, we can also “translate” by the proposition: Beings are manifold. But the proposition “Being is uniqueness” is spoken from a completely different viewpoint. This seems to be endangered by the Nothing, and certainly insofar as the Nothing is in any way a third vis-a-vis beings and being, so that the proposition “Being is the unique over against beings” becomes untenable, but also insofar as the Nothing is in a certain way the other to being.
(In this way Hegel thinks the relation of “being” and “nothing,” whereby he remains cognizant that, strictly speaking, he cannot at all address the Nothing as the other to being, because both are taken as the most extreme abstractions of “actuality” and have not yet developed into something (quale). Here, Hegel could never risk the proposition: “Actuality” (in his sense) and Nothing are the same. In this respect, however, what is said about the Nothing is meant here, and may not be conflated with Hegel’s “identification” of being and nothing.
The citation of the Hegelian “identification” of being and nothing in the essay “What is Metaphysics?” does not mean the adoption of the Hegelian position, but rather intends only to point out that this otherwise alien “identification” was already thought in philosophy.)
Our considerations ought, only in passing, attend to the following: notwithstanding the fact that beings are, the Nothing presences, and “is” in no way the “nullity” that people would gladly cast aside. Ordinary understanding believes, of course, that the Nothing first enters the scene when all beings have been eliminated. However, since in this case even man would be eliminated, no one would remain to think the Nothing, whereupon it is “proven” that the Nothing rests upon fancy and a mere play of understanding-but only so long as one misuses understanding instead of using it only for everyday business. That understanding has its legitimate domain here, no one would want to dispute. Yet, precisely because this is so, it could be doubted whether ordinary understanding, without further ado, has the “legitimacy” to pass judgment upon the essence of the Nothing. Thus it is necessary to remark that the Nothing is indeed the emptiest of the empty, but at the same time it has its equivalent nowhere else. This double characteristic of the Nothing has special meaning for our question. The Nothing is the emptiest and is unique.
The same goes for being. Otherwise, the sameness of being and the Nothing would be a strange word, seeming to subsequently strengthen the aforementioned suspicion that being is only a negative and baseless abstraction.
However, to us the Nothing is not a nullity. To recoil in terror of annihilation and to be horrified by devastation is to shrink back from something that cannot be addressed as mere imagination, as something baseless.
On November 2, 1797, Holderlin wrote to his brother: “The more we are assailed by the Nothing that yawns around us like an abyss or that shapelessly, soullessly and lovelessly haunts us and disperses us from a thousandfold something belonging to society and the activity of men, the more passionate, intense and violent must be the opposition from our side. Or must it not?”7
But what if the Nothing that horrifies man and displaces him from his usual dallying and evasions were the same as being? Then being would have to announce itself as something horrifying and dreadful, as that which assails us. But we would not gladly accept this. As long as we move within the usual beliefs about being, we leave it aside as something indifferent, and that is already an avoidance of being. This avoidance of being is carried out in many ways, which are not at all recognized as such because the priority of beings claims all thinking, so that even calculating with beings often counts as reflection. Avoidance of being shows itself in the fact that being is taken as the most intelligible of all that is understandable. That it comes to this, and can come to this, must, however, rest yet again with being itself. To what extent this is so remains at first unclear. If we have once become aware of our constant flight to reassurance through the “self-understood, “ then we easily observe everywhere how man at once embeds beings, as yet unexplained, within the sphere of the intelligible. Thus we find it entirely in order when everyone, just as they please, presumes to make judgments about the being of beings according to random notions, immediately current intuitions, and opinions that are barely thought out. On the other hand, one takes it to be entirely natural that, where it is a matter of managing and investigating beings, the trained practitioner, the qualified expert, the appointed leader has the word, and judgment is withheld from the arbitrariness of Everyman.
Reference to the contemporary claims of modern atomic physics to be able to deliver the guiding thread for interpreting the world in general should make one thing clear: that the fundamental representations of beings that rule in modern physics are elevated to the standard of measure for reflection about the world per se, and that in this procedure nothing exceptional and random is seen. People consider it superfluous to consider whether the sketch of beings as a whole has its own system of laws so that it cannot be arbitrarily set to work from anywhere. Modern atomic physics was also named, and only named, in respect to our guiding reflection aimed at the essence of being and the way in which it reveals itself. We are not concerned, here, with expounding a philosophical critique of contemporary physics. For this purpose reflection would have to be aimed differently; it also could not limit itself to an examination of the “law of causality.”
When, however, contemporary physics equates an event’s having been caused with its predictability, this clearly does not happen incidentally. In respect to this equivalence, one cannot simply afffirm that the principle of causality is a principle of beings but predictability is a principle of the knowledge of beings, so that even physics would fall into the error of converting an ontological law into an “epistemological” principle, thus confusing two different realms. The question remains: In what sense is the principle of causality a law of beings? We cannot make do with the naive representation according to which causality would be a law of the actual. Between the naive understanding of causality and the concept of causality in physics stands Kant and his interpretation of causality, which is not incidental, but codetermined by the metaphysical rudiments of modern physics. In our connection, it is not a matter of taking a position in regard to the understanding of causality in modern physics, but of indicating that the hardly noticed attitude which takes the essence of being as self-understood lies at the bottom of the claim of physics, as quantum physics, to be able to found a “quantum biology” and thus, as it were, a “quantum history” and, as it were, a “quantum metaphysics.” This reference to the claim of physics, which today also comes correspondingly from biology, should bring into view a sign, among others, indicating that in general “being” means for us the most intelligible.
3. The meaning of the guidewords: Instructions for reflection upon the difference between being and beings
We are attempting, through a series of guidewords, to raise into knowing something about the being of beings. And this, for the present, only in order to procure for ourselves, entirely from afar and in a modest way, a preparation for the resolve to follow the ancient saying p£~£1a 10 ~av, and in following what is incipient in Western thinking to come nearer and thus to know something of what, after all, is said in the inception. In case we are struck by a word from this inceptive saying, we are at least in clearer readiness for the direction toward which we must listen.
It must be observed with respect to misunderstandings already circulating that the guidewords about being do not appear as propositions that promulgate a special doctrine or system, or that merely develop a particular “theory” about being. The guidewords are not propositions that can be passed around as assertions “about” a “philosophical standpoint.” Taken as such, they would be misunderstood in everything essential.
The guidewords are instructionsfor reftection upon what comes to light when we have a proper eye for what we can do without. And indeed this reflection can be carried out at all times, from all situations, and according to various forms. It also does not have to cling to the phrasing of what is said here.
The main point is this: to take notice of something neglected, to learn to take notice of it without the hasty urge to immediately seek out utility and purpose. In the realm of this reflection, it is a matter of having the courage not to be as “daring” as the usual and exclusive calculation of what is actual in each case. It is a matter of having the courage to look around the domain of the difference between beings and being and simply to recognize what holds sway here. It is a matter of resisting the nearly ineradicable thought that every such attempt is only a going astray in abstractions, and indeed to resist on grounds of the growing knowledge of being, which might appear to us like the incarnation of all abstraction pure and simple.
At the end we say: Being is the most said. For it is said in every word of language, and nevertheless discourse and writing talk for the most part only about beings. This comes to articulation. Even where we actually say the “is” and thus name being, we say the “is” only to assert a being about a being. Beings are said. Being is kept silent about. But not by us and on purpose. For we are unable to discover any trace of an intention not to say being. Hence, the keeping silent must indeed come from being itself. Hence, being is a keeping silent about itself, and this is certainly the ground of the possibility of keeping silent and the origin of silence. In this realm of silence, the word first arises each time.
Michael David Pennamacoor
A brief history of the Spoon Collective
The period between 1980 and the mid-90s saw the deployment of a number of major technologies for collective communications over the Internet — such as Usenet and Bulletin Board Systems in the early 80s, Eric Thomas’ ListServ in the mid-80s, MOOs in the early 90s, Brent Chapman’s Majordomo in 1992. These technologies ushered in completely novel possibilities for collaborative thinking and writing.
In the late 80s and early 90s, there was a flourishing of Internet discussion groups in philosophy and critical analysis — social, cultural, political and artistic. Frequently, the creators and participants of these groups were either non-academics or people who found their academic environment intellectually sterile. The new medium offered stupendous potentialities for breaking people’s intellectual isolation and bringing them in contact with peers that they could not find among face-to-face contacts. The Internet became, for many, the place where they lived their intellectual life.
Just to give some random roadposts: rec.music.classical started in June 1987; alt.postmodern in May 1989; Michele Macaluso’s ArtCrit list in the late 80s; David Erben’s Derrida list in June 1991. And between 1992 and 1993, Kent Palmer and Lance Fletcher created ThinkNet/DialogNet, a stupendously ambitious network of dozens upon dozens of email lists and BBSs intended to encompass every area of philosophy and systems theory and ultimately become the foundation of an open “Internet University”. As Kent Palmer wrote: “Suddenly we have opened up a window to the world and through that window we can learn to speak out minds and perhaps learn from each other. [ThinkNet/]DialogNet is a forum for the presentation of ideas, thoughts and reflections so that they may be tested against the best thoughts of other minds from around the globe in real-time conversation and debate.”
The early ThinkNet lists were hosted at world.std.com, a Boston ISP which at the time offered its customers unlimited free Majordomo lists.
In late 1993 and early 1994, some events occurred within the ThinkNet framework which ultimately led to the creation of the Spoon Collective. These events involved, besides Kent Palmer, the persons of Michael Current, a young unemployed thinker and gay activist from Des Moines, IA, “Specializing in Philosophy, Queer Studies, Depression, & Unemployment” (in his words); Malgosia Askanas, a mathematician, software engineer and street performer from Boston, and Michael Harrawood, a graduate student of English at Berkeley (specializing in Shakespeare) — all of whom were, in one way or another, intensely invested in the ThinkNet lists.
The first of those events was the creation of the Deleuze list. Kent Palmer (who was, at the time, employed as software/systems engineer at Boeing and had a PhD in philosophy of science from the London School of Economics) was engaged in, as he described it, “research in ontology and autopoietic social systems theory”. Consequently, included in the ThinkNet collection was a set of lists dedicated to autopoiesis, and in the context of those lists the names “Deleuze”, and “Anti-Oedipus”, kept coming up. To quote from an account by Fido Rodenbeck:
“So Kent, not really knowing a thing about Deleuze, started a Deleuze list in the hopes of learning. […] Kent has many advanced degrees. But Kent was unaware of the import of the action he’d just completed: that is, starting a list for people into Deleuze or people into what they thought Deleuze might be into: people whose writing slams in the megalopolis, people into becoming-genera, people-against-oedipus, people into rubber clothes, people who weren’t offended by edgy language, people who didn’t give a fuck about advanced degrees, you get the pitcher…
Michael Current agreed to moderate the list once it became apparent that Kent, since he had by now installed a number of complementary lists, couldn’t moderate any of them and run them at the same time. But in the first weeks of Michael’s tenure as moderator, Michael had a number of bizarre embodied syntax errors — he changed his medication, and was having a lot of trouble adjusting. Rather than duck out and come back all fresh, Michael made his body part of the text of his list, and from the start [the Deleuze list] had an emotional quality, a PHYSICAL quality, that I don’t think Kent was ever able to understand […].”
Palmer had certain ideas of decorum in philosophical conversation. He monitored the discussions on his lists for breaches of decorum, and would suddenly intervene into heated arguments when they did not meet his standards of good taste. These interventions drew upon him a prolonged controversy and mutual harangues first with Harrawood and then with Askanas and Current, who all stubbornly objected to the idea of policing philosophical discussions in the name of an a priori standard of what they should be. It is interesting to note that it was this issue, rather than some generalized issue of “free speech”, that was the crux of the controversy.
These harangues had a tendency to make Palmer, who — in a truly astounding effort — was managing many tens of lists by himself, feel unappreciated and depressed. At such times he would abandon the lists for a while and/or threaten to close them altogether.
In early 1994, Palmer intervened in a discussion on the Deleuze list, and his intervention met with intense hostility from the list as a whole. This threw him into an especially intense bout of discouragement. He declared that he had had it, and was going to close down all of ThinkNet. As a result, Current and Askanas, unhappy with having a significant aspect of their intellectual life held hostage by Palmer’s mood fluctuations, decided to open their own account at world.std.com, and negotiated with Palmer the transfer of ownership of four of the ThinkNet lists. The account was called “spoon” — a name selected for the light weight, utility and versatility of the object it denoted, in contrast to the ponderous name “ThinkNet”. The four lists were Deleuze, Avant-garde (a list which Palmer created as a kind of ThinkNet Australia to which to banish potentially unruly discussions, and on which, at the time, Askanas was “leading” a discussion of Hakim Bey’s “T.A.Z”), Film-theory (which Palmer had created at Askanas’ request) and Technology, with which Askanas was also intensely involved. The transfer took place in late Spring of 1994, and this was the official beginning of the Spoon Collective. Soon after, Alan Sondheim — a poet, publicist and visual artist from New York — joined Spoon to start, together with Current, the Cybermind list; Steven Meinking, who was “moderating” the ThinkNet Foucault list, joined Spoon and transferred the Foucault list to it; and Jon Beasley-Murray, Flannon Jackson and Seamus Malone joined Spoon to create the Marxism list — the first Internet discussion forum dedicated to Marxist philosophy.
These events are important if one wishes to understand the issues that motivated the (reluctant) formation of the Spoon Collective, and that were to significantly shape its policies and mode of operation: (1) the perception that intellectual discussion needs to be self-regulating, rather than being regulated by a non-participant so as to conform to some external standard of decorum or “proper thought”; (2) the determination on the part of Spoon to not perceive itself in a position of “ownership” — with the attendant right to make demands upon the thinking of listmembers — with respect to the discourse on the lists; and (3) the issue of providing a stable environment for every list in Spoon’s care.
The first two issues motivated the overwhelming — frequently excessive — reluctance to regulate the events on the lists, which became a hallmark of Spoon and led, for example, to the grotesque contortions to which Spoon later resorted in attempting to deal with the de-facto hijacking of its Marxism lists by various sects, dogma-spouters, provocateurs and self-styled “vanguards of the working class”. The third issue significantly shaped the organization of administrative work within the Collective, and the design of the technical infrastructure which supported this work. From its inception, Spoon adopted the strategy of central collective “ownership” (in the listserver sense of the term) and administration of all its lists. The lists were centrally “owned” by the “spoon” account, to which all members of Spoon had access. The administrative tasks for the entire collection of lists — responding to listowner email, handling messages bounced to the listowner for approval, handling undeliverables, troubleshooting technical problems on lists — were handled by each Spooner in turn on the basis of a weekly rotation. For issues that required “inside” understanding of list dynamics, each list had at least one Spoon “caretaker” who actively participated in the lists’ discussions and, in the best cases, attempted to shape them through this participation. More significant or thorny issues encountered either in the course of the administrative rotation or in the context of on-list happenings would be discussed among the Collective before deciding (or punting) on a resolution.
On July 22, 1994, Michael Current died suddenly of a heart attack. This was a tremendous blow to the Collective — not only as the loss of a friend, and one possessed of exceptional intelligence, thoughtfulness, integrity, courage and humor — but also because Current’s understanding of the Internet culture was a crucial resource in the operations of Spoon. In the wake of this loss, Askanas invited Shawn Wilbur, a graduate student of American History at Bowling Green State University and a consummate participant in Internet culture, to join the Collective. Wilbur, who was at the time “moderating” ThinkNet’s Bataille and Baudrillard lists, accepted the invitation and transferred these lists to Spoon.
In the early Fall of 1994, world.std.com announced that it would start charging for its Majordomo lists, and the Spoon Collective decided to try to find a non-commercial host. Wilbur, who was involved with the MOO infrastructure at the University of Virginia’s Institute of Advanced Technologies in the Humanities (IATH), approached John Unsworth, the director of IATH. As a result, Unsworth extended to the Spoon Collective a wonderfully generous offer to host all its lists at the IATH. The Collective moved its operations to Virginia in late 1994, and in early 1995 applied for — and was granted — the status of Networked Fellows. The Collective continued to be hosted at the IATH for the next 10 years, until its dissolution in late 2004.
At the IATH, the Spoon Collective basically had the run of the machine which hosted the Majordomo software, the lists and the list-archives. Over the years, the Collective modified the Majordomo code, implementing a number of enhancements — for instance, the ability to terminate autoresponder loops, the ability to remotely maintain lists of addresses that can post to a given list without being subscribed, and of addresses that should be blocked from subscribing or blocked from posting to a given list (or to all lists); the ability to run pseudonymous and anonymous lists; MIME stripping and HTML translation; the ability to restrict the daily number of posts to a given list from a single person. Some of these are now standard features of modern listservers. In addition, the Collective wrote software tools for the creation, deletion and enhancement of lists, for facilitating searches through subscription lists, for maintaining a single administrative password for all the lists, for handling administrative requests bounced from lists, for stripping irrelevant headers from archived posts, for automatic handling of error bounces, for the display of archives on the Web without translating them into static HTML — and many more.
It is amusing to note that the outer structure of the raw archives reflects some of Spoon’s technological history. For example, the early versions of Majordomo did not have automatic archiving. Consequently, the 1994 archives have been manually compiled from posts collected by individual Spoon members, have a highly idiosyncratic organization, and contain gaps and duplicates. The next Majordomo version used by the Spoon lists had automatic archiving but no automatic division of the archive into monthly files; the posts from each list would all be appended to a single archive file, which would, every now and then, be divided — manually, with the help of scripts — into meaningfully but idiosyncratically named chunks. Then, finally, in mid-1995, the archive became populated by files with the standard Majordomo-archive names of the form LISTNAME.YYMM.
Another example: at world.std.com, every time the Collective wanted a new list or wanted to get rid of an existing list, it had to ask the staff to perform the list-creation or deletion. To minimize the imposition that would be incurred by the creation and deletion of multiple short-term-seminar lists, the Collective requested the creation of five “generic” seminar lists, named seminar-10 through seminar-14, which it would use (reuse) for all its short-term seminars. Even though this stratagem was no longer necessary after the move to Virginia, short-term seminars continued to be held on those five lists.
While the freedom of maneuver that the Spoons enjoyed at Virginia permitted a breadth of experimentation and flexibility that could never be contemplated at world.std.com, it also presented — and by the same token — some serious pitfalls. These were of a dual nature: the ease of expansion, and the shift of attention to technical maintenance.
The Spoons shared with the creators of ThinkNet/Dialognet a predilection for thinking in terms of a “space” of lists that would cross-fertilize each other, rather than an assemblage of individual lists catering to mostly non-intersecting sets of subscribers. In 1994, all the members of the Collective vigorously participated in most of the Collective’s lists, and during the first couple of years of Spoon’s existence there were a number of subscribers who maintained an active and crucial presence on multiple lists. To name just a few: John Young, Tom Blancato, Ariosto Raggo, Fido Rodenbeck, Alastair Dickson, Sawad Brooks, Chris Dacus, Matteo Mandarini, Connor Durflinger, Tristan Riley, Nathan Widder. These multiple list-involvements reflected a continuum of political interest behind the lists for whose ownership the Spoon Collective opted during the first few months of its operation. What the Spoons did not share with Palmer and Fletcher, on the other hand, was any ambition towards “completeness” of their list-space; on the contrary, they started out — especially Current, who was ill and had to manage his energies very carefully — with a horror of overextending themselves. Two factors, however, caused the project to continue to expand in spite of these misgivings. One was the desire, on the part of the people already in Spoon, to bring into existence certain lists that had no equivalent elsewhere — and, precisely in order to avert overextension, the concomitant need to bring into the Collective new members whose vision and participation would shape the direction of these lists. Thus, as mentioned above, Beasley-Murray, Jackson and Malone were inducted into Spoon to create the Marxism list; Dan Kern, to create the Blanchot list; Michael McGee, to “moderate” the Postcolonial list after it had been created by Dan Kern’s inspiration — and many other such inductions followed. The other factor responsible for expansion was the difficulty which the Spoons had in not extending their initial list-rescue impulse to other ThinkNet — and, in later years, non-ThinkNet — lists whose moderators wished to come over to Spoon. This is how Spoon acquired, for example, the Irigaray list (later renamed “French-feminism”) and its moderator Lynda Haas; the Feyerabend list and Marko Toivanen; the Heidegger and Harbermas lists, and Ermel Stepp. These enlargements, which began already while the Collective was hosted at world.std.com, could be accomplished with much greater ease after the move to Virginia. They brought under the care of the Collective a number of lists which were in fact of interest to no more than one member of Spoon, and whose continuance, in cases where this member left (or where there was no essential intra-Spoon interest in the list to begin with), would become to the Collective a matter of “public service” rather than of any active desire.
Indeed, as Rodenbeck pointed out in a hilarious provocation in June 1995 on the List-proposals list, it was infinitely easier for the Collective to create lists than to get rid of them. The problem of how to decide whether a list was “dead” or, in the immortal words of Monty Python, merely “resting”, proved so insurmountable that there was in fact not a single case of the Collective closing down any of its “permanent” lists due to the list having run its course. For as long as a list had subscribers, choosing to say absolutely nothing was, on the subscribers’ part, a perfectly legitimate way of using the list. As for short-term seminars, the Seminar on Collage that was the subject of Rodenbeck’s List-proposals provocation serves as a perfect case study: it started (on the Seminar-11 list) on Oct 24 ‘94; enjoyed two weeks of exuberant activity; fell completely silent until the Summer of ‘95, when Rodenbeck tried to wake it up, with questionable results, by posting a stream of literary bagatelles titled “Everyday Life” under names such as Marcel Mauss, E.M. Cioran and Susan Sontag; received some spam in November ‘95; fell completely silent again; and was only officially closed in March ‘96, almost a year and a half after the end of its two weeks of meaningful activity.
In one spectacular instance, abundant creation of new lists and proliferation of personnel was attempted as a magical substitute for the simple — yet, to the Spoons, almost impossible — act of performing expulsions and imposing “rules of discourse”. By early 1996, the Marxism list had been taken over by diverse sectarians — maoists, trotskyists, leninists, stalinists, adherents of the Sendero Luminoso — and became predominantly an arena for doctrinaire manifestos and verbal thuggery. Unwilling to intervene in what had been promised, in its charter, to be an “open” list, the Spoons decided to create a second list, Marxism2, whose charter left open the possibility of intervention, by declaring: “The policy is that no particular tradition or ‘orthodoxy’ shall be established on this list, nor shall it be an arena for wars between orthodoxies.” However, since this did not relieve the Spoons from having to be engaged with the day-to-day operation of the objectionable Marxism list, in late 1996 the Collective tried a more radical proliferation: it closed down both existing Marxism lists and replaced them with an open-ended entity called “the marxism space”, which consisted (at the time of its creation) of about a dozen lists on different topics, such as Marxism-feminism, Marxism-and-sciences, Marxism-psych, Marxism-theory, Marxism-thaxis (thaxis = theory+praxis), Marxism-general, Marxism-news. The Spoons then attempted to put distance between themselves and the new “space” by letting the on-list issues within the space to be managed by another “collective”, a team composed of volunteers from each list, who were gathered together on yet another list called “Marx-administration”. The “marxism space” was permitted to operate until May 1998, at which point the Spoons finally decided to stop lending their support, resources and technical-administration labor to a project whose exploitation by political interests repugnant to the Spoons was in no way diminished by virtue of the project having been being fragmented into many lists and banished to its own regulatory shell.
Marx-administration was only one of many instances — albeit the most extreme one — of separating the “on-list” functions of running a list from the “off-list” functions of technical administration, such as processing bounced messages, installing filters, or answering technical queries. Off-list administration required access to the Spoons’ Virginia account, a good amount of training, a modicum of political compatibility with the other members of the Collective, and an active interest in the Spoon Project as a whole. The function of the on-list caretaker, on the other hand, was conceived as that of a stimulant and direction-imparting force on the list itself — as well as an early detector of email loops and other potentially crippling problems. The need for stubborn stimulation and “pushing” on the part of some on-list “leadership” is poignantly illustrated by the case of the abovementioned Collage Seminar — which condenses, in a dramatic and extreme foreshortening, the recurring dynamics of most open discussion lists: an initial burst of enthusiastic activity followed — gradually or abruptly — by either relative silence or a settling into some kind of mostly indifferent routine. This pattern usually repeats whenever a new initiative is proposed or undertaken on the list. The intensity of the initial burst may be sustained for a relatively long period if there are one or two people on the list who are determined to sustain it and who put a lot of effort into it; but it ends when these people leave the discussion — even though the list may have hundreds of subscribers.
In fact, the overall history of the “Spoon space” as a whole shows the same pattern. Here, the period of initial intensity seemed to largely coincide with the participation on these lists of a handful of people who made them the center of their creative and intellectual activity and who unstintingly lent their own time and intensity to the life of the lists. After this handful was slowly eroded during the first few years of Spoon’s existence, it was never replaced by a new contingent of similarly-inclined people. The Spoons’ policy of appointing volunteer on-list “caretakers” for each list was intended to ensure precisely the sustenance of the intensity and intellectual aliveness that characterized the Spoon lists in their early period. But this was never really successful. The volunteers were exceedingly hard to find, and when they were found, they did not usually lend much creative juice to the list. It is a bit puzzling why this should be the case. One finds it hard to believe that the existence of people who have time to think, are eager to find a challenging intellectual environment, and are seriously interested in the kinds of questions and thinkers that the Spoon lists centered around, was a fleeting peculiarity of the mid-90s. Nonetheless, such a constatation seems hard to escape.
As was mentioned before, the expansion of the Spoons’ list collection also entailed a certain expansion of the Collective itself. In some cases, a person who had been running a given list elsewhere would ask to transfer the list to Spoon and would also join the Collective; in others, someone would join Spoon in order to start a brand-new list; in yet others, the on-list “caretaker” of an existing list would express an interest in joining the Collective. Since Spoon had never established any official policies as to who could or could not join it, and had formulated no requirements pertaining to the quality of the work contributed by the members, it put itself, a number of times, in a position of accepting, and meticulously training, people who would, in effect — by omission or commission — wind up sabotaging various aspects of Spoons’ operation. The process of coming to realize the reality of such sabotage, trying to peacefully remedy the situation, and finally going through the always acrimonious and divisive effort of expulsion constituted a considerable, and repeated, drain on the collective energies and will.
The increase in the number of lists managed by the Collective, and the changing climate of the Internet itself, resulted in an escalation in the amount of work involved in the tech-support of the lists. Until late 1995, none of the lists had their posting restricted to subscribers, and the “Olga spam” — instructing its readers how to find romance in the former USSR — which hit the Spoon lists in the Summer of that year, was an exotic event, whose recurrence was prevented by hacking a special check for the word “Olga” directly into the Virginia Majordomo. In 2004, allowing unrestricted posts on any list would be unthinkable; every day, the Collective would receive about 700 pieces of non-subscriber spam bounced from the various lists — spam that would have gone to the lists had they allowed unrestricted posting. But restricting posts to subscribers meant that legitimate posts from the subscribers’ alternate addresses would also be bounced to Spoon — and so the person on administrative rotation would have to sift through the spam in search of a few legitimate posts that needed approval. To diminish the number of such posts, the Collective added to Majordomo a function for maintaining sets of “extra” addresses that were permitted to post without having to be subscribed. New functions — later found more widely applicable — were also added to Majordomo in support of the Marxism lists, in an attempt to prevent known provocateurs or other destructive elements from posting or subscribing.
In early 1997, there appeared on the Internet a publicly dowloadable program called Avalanche, which gave its user the capability to mailbomb his or her enemies in a variety of alternative ways, one of which was by subscribing the victim to all the lists of the Spoon Collective. As a result, the Collective found itself under an incredible assault, both from the sheer stream of forged subscriptions and from the enraged victims. The latter problem was fixed by a Majordomo hack which restricted the number of subscriptions coming from a single source; the stream of requests hitting Majordomo, however, although it abated over time as the novelty of Avalanche diminished, did not fully cease until 2001, when the Spoon lists were moved from a machine called “jefferson” to a machine called “lists”.
One of the hidden but potentially unmanageable problems of running a large set of lists is the problem of error bounces — i.e. bounces from discontinued or otherwise problematic subscriber addresses. The proper handling of such bounces is to inspect each of them so as to find the address causing it, and then to unsubscribe this address from the list. If this is not done, the address will continue to bounce forever, putting an extra load on the mail system of the list’s host. This handling is a relatively easy task if one is running one or two lists, but becomes overwhelming — as the Spoons found out early on — even if one is running a handful of lists with a few hundreds of subscribers, let alone tens of lists with many thousands of subscribers. Attempting to deal with these bounces (or agonizing about not being able to deal with them) constituted a major aspect of the administrative rotation until the Summer of 1995, when the Spoons produced a first implementation of an automatic error handler — which, however, did not reach an acceptable efficacy, and continued to require substantial manual intervention, until early 1998.
The happenings and tendencies touched upon in the preceding paragraphs — and many others besides — had, as their combined effect, an increasing estrangement of the Collective from its individual lists, an increasing “laborization” of the work involved in running them, and a gradual exhaustion of collective energies and investments. The story of the Marxism lists, summarized above, unfolded as an (admittedly extreme) consequence of the Spoons’ almost superstitious reluctance to demand of their lists that they should conform to some pre-envisioned set of standards or usages. The lists — so the Spoons argued — should, in the ultimate analysis, be permitted to go wherever the subscribers want to take them, and be of whatever use the subscribers wish to get out of them. The only regulation should come from the inside, from the subscribers themselves, their ideas and passions. The consequence, over the years, as the direct list-participation of individual members of the Collective diminished, was that the lists — even those that the Collective ran from its very inception — were allowed to go in directions which were in fact of no special interest to the very people who ran those lists and who continued to shoulder their tedious and uninspiring daily administration. In effect, the maintenance of the Spoon lists became a public-service project, and the Collective became increasingly infected with the indifference and apathy that often characterizes public service institutions. By 2004, for example, it became next to impossible to make any serious collective decisions — not, as in the past, because of vigorous disagreements inside the Collective, but because of an almost complete anomie.
There can be little doubt that as far as public-service projects go, Spoon could be deemed a worthy and quite successful one. In the course the 10 years of Spoon’s operation, many tens of people actively participated — either as full members or as “caretakers” of specific lists — in the work of the Collective; and close to 100 lists passed through its care. The environment it built became a renowned and valued Internet “space” for public discussion of critical theory and of that stream in philosophy which could be called “the natural philosophy of Desire”; and many researchers, teachers and students made good use of it as a scholastic resource. But if one wants to view the Spoon project in the spirit which presided over its creation, and which, for years, sustained its energies, then one needs to evaluate it not as a scholastic resource, but rather as a multiplicity of experiments — in collectivity and micropolitics, in the creative uses of technologies, in the management of open forums, in provoking and sustaining thoughtful public discussions, in developing new ways of thinking, writing, and interacting. From this point of view, the success of the project will depend on the extent to which its experiments will serve as a springboard for future analyses, questionings, rethinking, and further experiments.
In the Spring of 2003, John Unsworth accepted a position at the University of Illinois, and in the Fall of that year he left the IATH. A year later, in the Spring of 2004, Bernard Frischer, then a professor of Classics at UCLA, was nominated as the new IATH director. During that year, the technical support of the IATH for the Spoon Collective became perceptibly more reluctant, and in the Spring of 2004 the Collective received a letter from Daniel Pitti, Interim Co-Director of IATH, questioning the formal status of the Collective at IATH and announcing the IATH’s intent to discontinue Majordomo support and to adopt Mailman (which is not suitable for centralized administration of multiple lists) as its sole listserver. Even though the Collective furnished some documents proving its status, and compiled a technical document listing the functions it required from its listserver, there would be no further reply from the IATH administration until November 30, at which point IATH briskly communicated its decision that the Spoon project did not fit in with the Institute’s “core mission” and would therefore no longer be hosted.
At this point, however, the Collective, whose members had been, for some of the reasons discussed above, growing increasingly weary of many aspects of their daily activities, had already embarked upon its own dissolution. Here, in part, is the letter from Askanas to the other Spoon members, dated November 15, 2004, which officially dissolved the Collective:
“Let me start with an executive summary. My position, in short, is that the Spoon project has been dying for a long time, and has been dead for a shorter, but still considerable, time; that we should have dissolved the Collective when this ongoing death first became apparent; and that I would like to hereby dissolve it.
As I have said whenever the opportunity presented itself, the Spoon project arose as a political project and the Spoon Collective as a political formation. They arose, first of all, from an unstated shared conviction that thought (what is being thought and how) and life (the way daily life, in all its aspects, is conducted) are inseparably linked with each other. The early philosophy lists and Usenet groups, with their ability to bring into mutual contact and confrontation thinking people from all over the computerized world — people from astoundingly different walks of life and with astoundingly different ways of thinking, but with a shared passion for more accurate perception and deeper understanding — seemed to present a stupendous potential for evolving new modes of thought and new modes of life. And it is crucial to note that when we were motivated by a thirst for new modes of thought and life, it was for ourselves that we wanted them, right now. The politics of the Spoon project were not a matter of providing soap boxes for people to spread this or that doctrine, or providing debating forums where people could present and swap arguments, or providing academic exchange channels, or even providing forums where “leftists” could get together to safely gripe about the world, or swap activism stories, or pass around petitions. Rather, the politics were about changing life — the life we think and live — starting right now.
And I am not talking about a utopian project. The fact is that for a while our lives were truly being changed. They were being changed because (1) we ourselves were a group of intelligent, passionate, thinking beings; (2) we were involved together in a project requiring concrete work, and had to deal with concrete problems whose resolution required actionable confrontations between our different ways of being and thinking; (3) we each had an intense libidinal investment in the project. And an important manifestation of this intensity was that each of us was significantly and passionately active, on a daily basis, on a number of our own lists — not because we realized that, in order to function, they needed an “external” push or provocation or direction, but because the confrontations they afforded us were, first and foremost, tools for the upheaving of our own ideas.
It is indisputable that in the course of the past 10 years, this situation has completely changed, and it seems clear to me that the single aspect that changed it was the withdrawal, on our part, of the libidinal investment. I really don’t know if this could have been prevented had we made some different decisions. It is clear that one can only change one’s thought and life if one is intensely invested in such a change. I think large public lists waste and ultimately burn out this intensity, simply because they force one to deal with numerous idiots, saboteurs, bureaucratic antiproducers, people who speak, argue and debate without any real interest except for killing time. For a while, one may gain insight from discussing with such people, since one then forces oneself to articulate, question and test one’s own thoughts, but after a while one has “seen them all” and doesn’t want to have to talk to another one for as long as one lives. I think that if we had been faithful to our politics, we should have nurtured and protected our own productive passion by ruthlessly getting rid from the lists of people whose “participation” was a drag on it. I simply don’t think that it is possible to reconcile the politics that founded Spoon with a diffuse ideal of “wide participation” and indefinitely prolonged “equal opportunity”. But we never seriously confronted ourselves with such inconsistencies in our political thinking, and our death began as soon as we started evading the awareness of their existence.
I also think that, as we have suggested to each other many times, it was a mistake to divide the lists by thinker, group of thinkers, and/or academic field. This encourages them to be joined by people who “specialize” in the given thinker or field and who want to have more or less “academic” conversations about it. We thought that somehow because we had a “set” of lists, there would be substantial cross-pollination and melding of discussions, but obviously just having a bunch of lists in the same place doesn’t accomplish that. I don’t know what would have accomplished what we wanted — but what we, instead, wound up with is a structure where the best one can hope for is to discuss this or that aspect of Deleuze with a group of people who make, or hope to make, their living out of Deleuze, and discuss this or that aspect of postcolonial theory with people who make, or hope to make, their living out of postcolonial theory.
To pursue the politics which created Spoon, we should have changed our structures and policies whenever, and as often as, we perceived that they did not do for us what we wanted them to do, what inspired our passion. But, instead, we permitted them to stagnate — in the name of “stability”, “community service”, “responsibility” to the subscribers, and so on. In other words, we did not accord to our own political passion the respect and seriousness required to keep it alive. The only “stability” we should have served was the continuance of our own desire, and nurturing this desire should have been our only responsibility. But instead, we let it die. And then, instead of diagnosing this death and ending the project, we let it drag on, arguing — as we still do — that we “don’t mind” doing the weekly rotation, since it only takes X minutes a day.
Well, I would like, at this late hour, to diagnose the death of Spoon, issue a coroner’s report, and give the corpse its much overdue burial. When I look at the matter from a proper clinical perspective, I have to proclaim that we should, indeed, mind every minute we spend on doing rotation, since it is a minute we are spending in boredom and indifference. And it has become increasingly obvious that I mind every hour I have to spend doing technical Spoon work, even though I gladly spend the same time doing exactly the same technical work on other projects that have the power to engage my thought and passion. Moreover, I mind every bit of effort I spend in the “service” of the people populating our lists — people who, in large part, consider themselves “leftists” but have no appreciation for the work, whether done as labor or out of passion, that we put into running this operation, no interest in by whom, how, and for what purpose the stuff they consume is produced, no desire to build, to think, to live, but infinite claims as to what is “owed” them. These people are not my political allies, and it should have been long ago my politics to stop catering to them. And I mind, too much to even try to overcome it, having to spend any time negotiating with the new guard at Virginia, adjusting to the environment they might come up with, reminding them to put the right group permissions on the aliases file, and having to hope that the new IATH director, Bernie Frischer, will somehow take a shine to the Spoon Project. And the way to cure this malaise — this death so long past curing — is not to take on, as someone suggested, new “responsibilities”, in the manner of people who beget children in order to “keep the marriage together”. The way to cure it is to stop prolonging it. I myself have been instrumental much, much too long in prolonging it, and I now, finally, say “Basta”. Spoon is dead. Let’s close shop.
And if some of you want to consider continuing the project in some form, I would like to stipulate that the continuation take place under a different name. The names “Spoon Project” and “Spoon Collective” should belong exclusively to the project that I have just declared to be dead. They should be permitted to refer, historically, to a specific collective motivation, a specific micropolitical state which has run its course.”
At the time of its dissolution, the Collective ran about 50 lists, including: Anarchy-list, Aut-op-sy, Avant-garde, Bataille, Baudrillard, Bhaskar, Blanchot, Bourdieu, Crit-psych, Deleuze-guattari, Derrida, Dromology, Feyerabend, Film-theory, Foucault, Frankfurt-school, French-feminism, Habermas, Heidegger, Klossowski, List-proposals, Lyotard, Marxism-intro, Method-and-theory, Modernism, Nietzsche, Phillitcrit, Postanarchism, Postcolonial, Postcolonial-info, Puptcrit, Sa-cyborgs, Spoon-administration, Spoon-announcements, Surrealist, Technology, Third-world-women. The total subscribership of these lists in November of 2004 was about 12, 000. The Collective had 8 members: Malgosia Askanas, Jon Beasley-Murray, Jim Castonguay, Radhika Gajjala, Reg Lilly, Mark Nunes, Judith Poxon, and Shawn Wilbur.
By M. Askanas
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