Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fragments & First Beginnings

Protokoll: M. Heidegger’s Being and Time

Έν άρχη ήν ̀ο λόγος…

“Wherever I begin, it is all one to me, for there I shall return again.”

– Parmenides

At first, a word toward “fragments and first beginnings,” the “fragmentary and incipient” [“bruchstückhaft und in ersten Anläufen”]: how are we to begin with Heidegger’s text? How to receive its message? If it is purely original and autochthonic, sharing no common ground and outside all horizons, then who are we to break its hermetic seal? But if this text is open to us—indeed, if we are open to this text—we may in fact find we have a share in its message (being) as mediated through a shared language (wherein being resides).

Yet the question remains: how to begin? Within which horizon? If by way of Plato’s Sophist—the manner in which Heidegger himself begins—then we find we understand neither is nor is not, yet conclude with Theaetetus and the Visitor from Elea that we nevertheless must go on with our inquiry. If by way of Hesiod’s Theogony—from where the reference, via the Sophist, to the gigantomachia comes—then how are we to think our own beginning from the blood of giants vanquished by gods? Or if we take a different route, via Elea, back to the Paremenidean fragments themselves, then how are we to think being when being and thinking are the same? Do we need to read Being and Time if we already adequately think being? Is everything, including Being and Time, always already merely quotations of quotations, a palimpsest par excellence with no beginning and nothing new to say?

As we begin to read this fragment, we come to understand that there is not ever a pure beginning but always already a beginning-entering—a beginning to enter something already there, the necessary and fragmentary processuality of coming to understand that we are already within our own horizonal frame. Our content is our (temporal and historical) context. Regardless, it is only by beginning do we begin to recognize our own inadequate cognizance of being. Even though we daily use this term, we still do not understand what being is, what we mean by it. Therefore, we must raise the question of the meaning of being anew. But before we can begin to answer that question, we first must begin to try to understand what we even mean by that question. What does the question what is the meaning of being? demand of us, especially as the only beings from whom being can demand any sort of answer? Our approach needs to be grounded within our lived, everyday existence; that is, the concrete and experiential. The only understanding of being we could possibly have is one that is informed by our experience of time, our self-understanding that we are finite and limited beings defined by finitude.

Not only do we not understand being, but we, for the most part, have forgotten being altogether. Yet the question of the meaning of being is of prime importance. It once served as a stimulus to the philosophical projects of Plato and Aristotle. Yet since, philosophy has not considered it a subject worthy of thought. Instead, it has even trivialized being, thoroughly dogmatizing its neglect, thereby making being (seem) utterly superfluous. Most thinkers contend that being is so universal as to be self-evident, requiring neither thought nor attempt at definition. Despite the fact that pre-Socratic philosophers found being to be disturbing enough to devote their lives to exploring its hidden and unfathomable truths, we charge any contemporary philosopher who thinks about being with misunderstanding and methodological error.

To counter these claims, Heidegger asserts that being is not a universal category subsuming all beings; that being truly cannot be defined by beings (i.e., being cannot be depicted as having the same characteristics of any being qua entity), but its indefinability itself demands a re-questioning of being’s meaning. The fact that we already have an albeit undisclosed awareness of being necessitates further the raising of the question of being’s meaning yet again. We may begin only by first formulating an adequate way to raise the question of being in order to make being transparent.

Questions have their own horizons, their own limits. When we enter into the questioning, we allow ourselves to be guided by what is sought. In this case, being will guide us toward itself if we allow ourselves to be in a position of being guided. Asking toward being is a way of being itself. More importantly, being is already available for our inquiry even though we may fail conceptually to grasp the is in our undemanding, preliminary question what is being? We seek that which we know beforehand only tacitly, but despite the fact that being is not a being, we can only approach the question of being by way of questioning beings themselves.

Since being encompasses all that we see, all that we know, and all that we comport ourselves toward—everything that is, is (within) being: the totality of what we include in reality, the objective presence of things [Vorhandenheit], subsistence, validity, Da-sein, and the there is [es gibt, il y a]—we must choose a being whose interrogation will guide us to being itself. Da-sein is that being whose questioning of being is a mode of being, and interrogating Da-sein will make this being transparent to her own being. Moreover, Da-sein is not merely yet another being among (other) beings; instead, Da-sein is the being whose being becomes a question for her. Da-sein’s ontic uniqueness is that she herself ontically is ontological; Da-sein’s essence, therefore, is existential. Our pre-ontological understanding of predicative being is our entry into the question-frame of existential being. It is only by way of questioning the being whose mode of being can question being itself that being can be questioned. The essence of Da-sein is that Da-sein already knows being—knows that she is—even before being becomes a question for her. However, Heidegger’s project is not mere abstraction and theorization; instead, he seeks an understanding of being that is grounded within the everyday and concrete: the fact that something is, is a call to (call into) question its “isness.”

We can only conclude here with an anarchical word: being. And now, at the end, let us begin to enter, to re-question the ever-fragmentary Being and Time. Even though we may “believe that we are spared the exertion of rekindling” the gigantomachia, perhaps Heidegger would rather we stage our own authentic [eigentlich] reenactment: let us therefore divide ourselves into giants and gods. To arms to battle for being!

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