Re: Reading 11


Hello to the list. Though I'm sort of jumping in in the
middle, there are a couple of things I want to go back to. I was
in on the beginning of this reading of Heidegger's Letter, but
personal life intervened and I got out of touch. Getting the past
postings from Tony, I have just been playing a serious game of
catch-up.

Reading over the past posts, I notice that a number of issues that
I think are important in LH seem to be missing; so I thought I would
raise them -- not to sidetrack or detour the discussion, but because
they seem relevant to what is being discussed. They include a
non-formularistic approach to Being, the question of the inarticulable,
and the issue of Sartre. Let me talk about these a bit, in that order,
as I understand them.

I could start, in this 11th reading, with Tony's remark that
"person is dissolved into the universality of Being." The use
of the verb "dissolved" here is I think a point to focus on. The
implication in it is that Being is somehow "out there" into which
one can be dissolved. But I think that, in Heidegger's terms, if
Being is out there, then Being is already a metaphysical entity.
It can no longer be approached from the perspective of
metaphysics. Heidegger does say it must be approached from the
perspective of metaphysics, but I think that is because that
perspective is all we've got; it is where we have to start from.
But it is precisely that perspective that must be abandoned in
the approach -- for which he deconstructs ontology in BT.

This kind of thing happens elsewhere. In Reading 6, for instance,
Tony says, "Under this definition, Heidegger's project itself is
metaphysical, not because it returns with a system of entities, but
because it departs from the self, toward Being, outward." But for
Heidegger, man has already departed from Being; that is the inception
of his whole project, to return to the meaning of Being (whatever
changes of terminology from Dasein to thinking occur after the war).
The departing from self is a return to Being.

And Bunkerphil does it too. "Man ... must be somehow gathered up
and gerryrigged into some sort of 'counter-apparatus' that will
extricate itself from this ever tightening iron cage of
technological domination. ... The only thing we can do for
Heidegger now is to relieve him of his delusion that Being would
return." But for Heidegger, Being is returned to, not what
returns. Being could not be what is to return if it is what is
forgotten. Indeed, Being is what is always the trace that is
present in absence in beings (as Derrida would say, and
Bernasconi lays out in his excellent book, mention by Chris).

Thus (one last example) Tony says, "this entry into
metaphysics should make it possible to disclose Being as the
"transcendens pure and simple"." I would counter that it is from
the metaphysical perspective which is abandoned rather than
entered that Being can be disclosed.

And all this is what I would refer to as being too
formularistic about Being. For Heidegger, Being manifests itself
through beings. It is not the transcendence of any one thing or
region or set of things. Rather, as transcendence pure and
simple, it is transcendence in form, without stating what the
content of that transcendence is. This absence of "content" (and
the form-content distinction I am drawing here is semiotic, not
metaphysical or Platonic) is also seen in the expression "es gibt."
The "there is" is a form to which Heidegger precisely refuses to
give a content, a referent, a thing whose being is named as what
"there is". It is simply that "there is," in general. And this
includes the being that is Dasein. Dasein is a being; man is a
being. But Dasein is a special one (that can question), and ask
about the meaning of Being (which is different from what Being
means). If Being manifests itself through
beings, as the trace of Being in beings, then Being is not out
there, it simply is, and Dasein (we) can question it "in"
ourselves, and through ourselves. And have to, if we are not
going to get lost in a return to metaphysics. That is, to do
that, we must abandon the metaphysical perspective, and learn to
live in the nameless, because the nameless is that region where
one is no longer specifying beings, or Dasein, or person, or the
individual. In other words, it is to recognize that any approach
to Being must remain inarticulable. And I think that this notion
of the inarticulable is really what is at the center of what
Heidegger was doing (and is what Derrida picked up on and turned
to tremendous account in his critique of language).

One cannot articulate Being, and not turn it into a being in
that articulation. One must let Being be. This is what is implied
in Heidegger's centering the ontological difference; the
ontological difference approaches the inarticulability of Being,
by specifying that beings are, that a consideration of beings and
a consideration of Being are different, and stopping there. For
Heidegger, this is enough to follow the path of aletheia, of
having unforgotten the question of Being, but then not having
forgotten again that Being cannot be specified, that it is not a
being. One must not forget not to fall into the trap of
forgetting this. This is another reason that Heidegger returns to
Being in BT only through the means of discussing Dasein, and its
existentials. Its as close as one can get in an articulation.

This notion shows up again in the Augenblick that Chris
makes reference to. Chris says: "that the whole suddenly lights
up. This sudden lighting is the Augenblick, or the moment, which
should be taken to mean (in another of his [Heidegger's]
metaphors), being flashes like lightning in the dark and
illuminates everything, but only briefly, and then darkness again
falls." The lightning flash in which Being is revealed is only
the blink of an eye because it must necessarily remain
unarticulated. It is the flash of what Husserl would call
intuition (also using the term augenblick); the flash of
realization of Being in and through all beings, including
ourselves as Dasein -- that is, never out there.

And this is why Heidegger turns to poets, and poetry. Chris
puts his finger on this nicely. This is "the problem that
Heidegger approaches in his later writings on language. The poet
cannot name the highest, because there the word fails and there
is only silence. All poetry is ... a talking around the
unsayable," not vainly unsayable, as Chris puts it, but
necessarily approaching the unsayable (for Heidegger). This is
why, as Chris puts it, "Heidegger says that the poet must come
down from the holy places in the mountain peaks and back to human
society." It is to be one of the means of approaching the
inarticulable, as an approach to the meaning of Being.

Okay, what this implies is that for Heidegger there is and
has always been a social dimension to his project (and whether it is
an ethics or a lack thereof, a sense of the communal or the
obviation thereof, is an important question). But this, it
seems to me, has to be included in reading what his politics might
be in his texts. I do not think that what has been said so far on
this list about Heidegger's politics is at all misdirected; but I
think that this question of the inarticulable has to be somehow
included (which is one of my interests in returning to the
"Letter"). But I won't go into that now; this is getting too
long, and I want to say something about Sartre, also or
particularly in light of the social dimension of what Heidegger
is doing.

The "Letter on Humanism" was written as an answer to Sartre
primarily, because it was written in answer to a letter about
Sartre's speech, "Existentialism is a Humanism." (EH) The
question Jean Beaufret asks Heidegger is what he thinks about
Sartre's having invoking him (Heidegger) in that speech as part
of his (Sartre's) philosophical tradition. And Heidegger wants
to distance and distinguish himself from that, and from Sartre in
general. But I want to say that he does it dishonestly. And that
will open up, I think, another social dimension of the LH.

Sartre's speech, EH, was given in 1946, as a political speech,
whereby Sartre sought to put existentialism on the political map
in the vast opening of political and philosophical thought that
swept France in the wake of liberation. Marxism and Catholicism
were dominant because they had both played dominant roles in the
resistance (and revisionist history will only re-evaluate those
roles, but they stand as central). In the speech, Sartre seeks to
answer their negative polemics against existentialism in
political terms, and thus he is both sloganistic and anecdotal
throughout. And I don't think that anyone will deny that there is
precious little philosophical discourse in slogans.

But BN was already written; and that is where Sartre
lays out his philosophy. In EH, he is giving a political spiel.
Though the political commentators might take Sartre up on his
words in EH, that hardly befits a philosopher of Heidegger's
stature. And there is nowhere in BN that Sartre says "existence
precedes essence" (if there is, I seriously missed it). Heidegger
is right in his critique of the metaphysics of the notion of
"precedence;" but he is not speaking of the philosophical Sartre
when he addresses that slogan, and thus raises Sartre's tactical
political text to the level of a principled philosophical
treatise. I mean, if I'm going to do a critique of a book, should
I restrict myself to what the author has written on the dust
cover as part of an attempt to sell the book? But that is what
Heidegger did.

Well, a balanced critique of the relation between Sartre and
Heidegger has yet to be done; Joesph Fell's leaves too much to be
desired. I would simply point out that there are more parallels
than misappropriations. Sartre, for instance, has a form of
ontological difference, one which plays a similar role in BN. The
Sartrean ontological difference is not that between the in-itself
and the for-itself; it is that between the for-itself and the
project, by which things get their meanings, and in which,
nothingness remains unarticulated. The implication for an account
of the relation between Sartre and Heidegger is that Heidegger
does not have a concept that approximates what Sartre calls
being-in-itself; and this would similarly withdraw that term out
from under the Hegelian text from which Sartre got it. (Well,
that too will be long discussion.)

But let me just add that Derrida then comes along in 1968,
in his major attack on Sartre in "The Ends of Man," and continues
Heidegger's "misreading" of Sartre. In particular, Derrida
accuses Sartre of having continued the general misunderstanding
of Heidegger that is contained in translating Dasein as "human
reality" (attributed to Corbin), which anthropologizes
Heidegger. But in BN, Sartre draws a clear distinction between
Dasein and "human reality", in his critique of Heidegger. For
Sartre, the two terms mean different things. And he considers
Dasein to be an impoverished notion, with respect to what he
means by "human reality." Furthermore, Sartre notes that he bases
the entire notion of human reality on negativity, while Heidegger
bases Dasein on positivity. In effect, Sartre does not translate
Dasein as "human reality" at all, and thus did not appropriate
Dasein in a metaphysical or anthropologized guise. Rather, he
critiqued it, and in his own ontology replaced it by something
else because he found Heidegger's idea to be sorely lacking for
him. Well, Derrida's charge of misapprpriation is simply a way of
not dealing with the difference between the two, a serious
difference that seems like it might pertain to this list's
discussion of Heidegger's politics, insofar as Sartre did not
make the same mistake in perspective in 1933, or in 1939, that
Heidegger did, and that other French philosophers did.

In effect, I think that the question of Sartre is central to
understanding what Heidegger is doing in LH, and to its
historicity as a text.

Enough for the moment.

Steve Martinot



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