Re: Gravity and Light

On Sun, 7 May 1995, Hagen Finley wrote:

> I just completed a course with Dreyfus on Heidegger & Foucault and I
> want to put froward a concern that has troubled me throughout the semester.
> I have never been very comfortable with the relative homogeniety of
> the clearing that Heidegger seems to argue for. Drawing on the metaphor of
> the clearing one tends to imagine a serene meadow flooded with the morning
> sunlight surrounded by a dark and ominous forest . The field of the clearing
> is flat and it lacks defining features which make one area more desirable
> than another. Movement within the clearing is unbridled. The inhabitants of
> the clearing see themselves and their world with the same eyes.

Clearing is not something like a meadow. In Heidegger's own explanation
of Lichtung, he says that it is a clearing or thinning of the woods that
allows light to illuminate the beings in the midst of which one stands.
If you are familiar with The Hobbit, Mirkwood would stand as an example.
In Mirkwood, the covering was so thick only a very weak light made its
way down, and so even in daylight everything stood in unclarity. At
night it was impossible to see at all. The point being, without lighting
or clearing, the world would be, as Hegel reproached his onetime
fellow-traveller Schelling, a night in which all cows are black. Light
itself has no real space or position, but allows beings to appear in
their configuration (or a configuration, if we don't want to impute some
sort of absoluteness to Heidegger).

> What I want to argue is that position matters. There is a certain
> gravity to the position one stands in the meadow and that that gravity
> bends the light of the clearing. That means that the 'where' of the 'there'
> in Dasein makes a difference - that there are good and bad places to find
> oneself in the meadow and that people struggle to maintain positions which
> are favorable by blocking the mobility of those in less fortunate locations,
> and seek to move into better places currently occupied by others.
> I have been told that this concern is too ontic -that the turmoil
> of the clearing has no real bearing on the ontological argument that
> Heidegger is advancing. However, I am suspicious that this answer attempts
> to dismisses my concern without actually addressing the issue I am raising.
> Let me clarify. First, the issue I am raising is NOT moralistic -
> that the clearing really *ought* to be level, that mobility *ought* to be
> unrestricted, and that people *ought* to imputed a dimension of equality.
> Second, it is not my intention to reduce the mode of Being to the social or
> institutional structures of existence that order a given culture, although I
> will admit that this is closer to my point and it is the trap I need to
> avoid. Certainly early Heidegger is offering a structural interpretation of
> Being which transcends the actual practical instantiations of a given
> cultural interpretation.

Why try to avoid these implications? Heidegger didn't. It is not as if
there is a realm of Being somewhere and another, quite separate realm of
beings somewhere else. The being of beings might not itself be a being,
but as the phrase indicates, it is the being of _beings_. Dasein is the
being for which being is an issue, which means concretely, our
understanding of being gives us beings as they are. To let the being of
beings be an issue is to live authentically as a human. This is as true
in Being and Time as it is in the Letter on Humanism (and, Tony, if you
are reading this, I think finally I came up with a simple indicator to the
question you raised several times about whether authenticity remains a
theme in both texts.)

The next question then is whether we have reflected adequately on our use of
culture, race, gender and other recently popular categories of being, or
whether they risk falling into self-evident, encrusted truisms.


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